State Budget Provides “Justice Equality” Justice Equality Campaign Applauds State Funding of Public Defense in Final Budget Deal
Albany, NY – In response to the final budget deal announced today, the over 200 organizations and counties in the Justice Equality campaign applauded the Governor and Legislative Leaders for a budget that includes state funding for public defense improvements overseen by an independent oversight body.
“The public defense reform achieved in this budget is absolutely transformational,” said New York State Defenders Association Executive Director Jonathan Gradess. “It places New York on an irreversible path toward equal justice; it makes the first genuinely tactical step toward reform of public defense services for those unable to afford counsel and it opens the door to an ongoing consensual dialogue on exactly what is needed to bring that about over the next seven years. The Governor and members of the Legislature are all to be congratulated on working through the thorns to find the roses of quality and defender independence.”
“Poor Black and Latino New Yorkers are now on track to receive quality public defense representation throughout the legal process, thanks to the agreement for the state to provide funds to all counties for public defense program improvements,” said Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, Chairman, NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. “I commend Speaker Carl Heastie for his expert leadership role in bringing this Caucus priority to a positive and welcomed resolution.”
“My clients, as well as those clients of every other institutional defense provider in our great state, deserve excellent representation,” said Mark Williams, President of the Chief Defenders Association of NY and the Cattaraugus County Chief Public Defender. “This is a major step by the state to ensure that goal. For this, we are grateful. The state funds all aspects of the judiciary system, and now it is finally funding improvements for public defense programs including my office and the programs in all 62 counties in the state. This starts the process of eliminating the patchwork system created over 50 years ago with its unfair burden on local taxpayers.”
“The Justice Equality Act is a major step in ensuring that the state take on the responsibility of meeting its constitutional mandate to provide adequate legal representation to every indigent criminal defendant,” said John S. Wallenstein, President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “I commend the Governor and Legislature for taking this step to improve the quality and delivery of public defense services and work towards meeting our obligation to fulfill ‘Gideon’s Promise’ with full state funding and independent oversight.”
“I have long worked to ensure that those who can least afford legal representation, regardless of race, ethnicity, social status or ability to pay, have a voice,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “With this budget, we start to move away from having two systems of justice in New York. The state has been ignoring its constitutional obligation for too long. This agreement provides the state will pay for counsel at first appearance, provide caseload relief and additional resources, which will cap future expenses to counties that are already burdened with unfunded mandates. However, the state needs to go even further and take over paying for Indigent Legal Services completely. It needs to stop passing on what still is its responsibility, and not have it funded by property taxpayers.”
“The Catholic Church believes in the mandate to provide social justice for all, regardless of income, race, or any other difference. This is based on God’s call to us all to help the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the hungry and the homeless,” said Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. “Governor Cuomo and our legislative leaders are taking an important step to fulfill that call by supporting a fair and unbiased legal system, and moving towards a state-funded and well-resourced indigent legal defense program.”
“Justice equality is an important part of any effective strategy to counteract impacts of racially-biased policies,” said Alice Green, Executive Director, The Center for Law and Justice. “By supporting this legislation, the Governor, Assembly and Senate will make a difference in heavily-policed communities by increasing the fairness of the system. Today, New York has upheld its progressive traditions.”
St. Lawrence County is pleased to be among the lead advocates on this issue,” said Stephen Button, St. Lawrence County Attorney and a former public defender. “For years now, we have advocated for a change that will benefit the judicial system while avoiding an increased fiscal burden on the citizens of New York. I know from my own experience that without this bill, defenders just can’t provide their clients with the best defense possible and without state funding, counties can’t continue to shoulder the burden.
By supporting this legislation, Governor Cuomo and members of the State Assembly and Senate are making sure everyone will have access to quality legal representation from their first court appearance to their last without burdening county property tax payers with increased unfunded mandates.”
The public defense state funding provision is a major first step to address the longstanding crisis in public defense and the inequity that flows from the limited application of the settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. Judge Kaye’s 2006 Commission report found county public defense programs to be “in a serious state of crisis,” with a fragmented system, excessive caseloads and a lack of well-resourced programs to serve clients.
In 2007, the NYCLU sued the state and five counties. In the Hurrell-Harring 2015 settlement, the State acknowledged its responsibility to set standards and provide state funding to ensure quality representation for the five county programs in the lawsuit.
The budget agreement extends the groundbreaking improvements to the rest of the state-the remaining 57 counties.
* ensuring all criminal defendants have counsel at arraignment,
* establishing new caseload standards so that attorneys providing mandated relief devote sufficient attention to each case, and
* implementing initiatives to improve public defense.
The agreement also maintains the independent oversight of the Office of Indigent Legal Services. Independent oversight of public defense functions is a key principle of the American Bar Association.
The Justice Equality campaign enjoyed the support of hundreds of organizations, elected officials and editorial boards across the state, including the state and national Bar Associations, NYC Council Black & Latino Caucus, the NYS Council of Veterans Organizations, the New York State Catholic Conference and National NAACP.