Indigent Defense Services Reforms Pass Legislature
State Legislature Passes Measure that Combines Mandate Relief and Improves Access to Justice for the PoorThe New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) today commended state lawmakers for passing legislation that reforms the state's indigent legal services program bringing true mandate relief to counties.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) and Senator John DeFrancisco (R-Onondaga and Cayuga), provides a full state fiscal takeover of indigent defense services while at the same time increasing the quality of legal services for the poor.
NYSAC President William E. Cherry thanked the lawmakers for their diligent work in getting this mandate relief bill passed in both houses of the legislature.
"This bill accomplishes three objectives. It provides real and meaningful mandate relief for counties and property taxpayers. It protects taxpayers from costly and unnecessary lawsuits against New York's public defense program. And it improves legal defense services for the poor in all counties in the state," President Cherry said.
In 1963, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, determined that legal services for the poor is a state-level responsibility. But in New York State, most of the costs associated with this service have been shifted-mandated-to counties and local taxpayers.
In 2014, the state settled the Hurrell-Harring lawsuit against the State of New York and 5 counties, claiming that indigent defense systems were failing to meet constitutional responsibilities. In the settlement, the State agreed to expand public defense services in those 5 counties and provide state funding to cover the expansion. The other 52 counties were not included in the settlement, and were left vulnerable to future litigation.
The Fahy/DeFrancisco bill expands the provisions of the Hurrell Harring settlement to the other 52 counties and provides for an incremental 7-year state fiscal takeover of all indigent legal service costs.
"This is smart government legislation that moves us closer to achieving an improved, uniform statewide indigent defense system, and reduces the likelihood of future litigation," said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, president of the New York State County Executives Association.
"This groundbreaking measure will help New York live up to the promise of fair representation of indigent defendants dictated in 1963 by the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright," said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, who worked closely with Assemblymember Fahy on the legislation. "Costs to counties to provide defense for the poor is escalating and this legislation provides a phased-in approach to fixing the state's fragmented system of justice. It also helps us meet our longstanding obligation to protect the rights of all residents, regardless of income or social status."
"When the property tax cap legislation was passed by our State Government it was done so with the promise that the State would also provide mandate relief to allow counties to provide needed services while delivering much needed relief to our property taxpayers. The passage of this bill, spearheaded by County Executive McCoy, will begin to deliver on that long awaited promise as it is exactly the type of relief Counties and our property taxpayers need. I want to thank all of our State Legislators who have supported this legislation and strongly urge the governor to sign this bill into law to help provide some of the relief that our property taxpayers need and deserve," stated Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen M. Jimino.
Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro concurred, adding: "today, the state legislature delivered mandate relief for counties across New York State. The bill will provide state funding for constitutionally protected legal defense for those in need of these services while saving Dutchess County taxpayers close to $4 million a year. I am glad we led the fight for this important legislation and did not waiver. Property taxpayers and defendants in need all across the state will benefit from this legislation."
The New York State Association of Counties is a bipartisan municipal association serving the counties of New York State. Organized in 1925, NYSAC's mission is to represent, educate and advocate for member counties.