Local Laws: Tow Trucks, Conflict Defenders, and Probation Fees

By Patrick Cummings, NYSAC Counsel
NYSAC tracks and makes available local laws that have been passed by your fellow counties. Understanding what other counties are doing to address their local issues or needs can provide ideas for you to use in some variation in your county. Below are brief descriptions of unique and recently-passed local laws from member counties.

County Amends Local Law Regulating Car Towing Services
On October 4, 2016 Rockland County enacted a local law amending existing automotive towing service regulations. The law's intent is to safeguard residents' public health and welfare as well as protect them from unsafe towing service practices.

The local law's focus is on regulating what is commonly referred to as “wreck chasing” and predatory towing service pricing. To achieve these protection goals the local law requires operational licenses for individuals seeking to provide towing service in the county. Each licensee applicant must submit trucks used for inspection by the County Director of Consumer Protection. In order to pass any inspection the tow truck must, at a minimum, have a working fire extinguisher, highway flares, safety chain, street broom, shovel, and a minimum of 50 feet of cable that can handle at least 3700 lbs. Additionally, each tow truck operator must provide proof of appropriate insurance coverage for operations.

For consumer protection purposes, the local law sets service charging rate caps based on the weight of the towed vehicle and based on the time and date of the tow (nights, weekends and designated holidays allow for a higher capped rates). Additional service rate caps include charges for storage.

If certain provisions of this local law are violated the penalty could result in fines between $500.00 and $1000.00 and/or could constitute a Class A misdemeanor not to exceed 6 months imprisonment.

Livingston County Passes Local Law Creating a County Conflict Defender
On October 21, 2016 Livingston County adopted a local law establishing a Conflict Defender and a Conflict Defender's Office to help further provide legal representation to indigent persons.

All counties in New York are required by the state to provide and pay for the criminal defense counsel for those that cannot afford this service themselves. Counties throughout New York have different systems when providing indigent defense services, many opting to use a Public Defender's Office. Other counties use private assigned counsel programs (known as 18b service) and some counties use a combination of the two systems. Even with these systems in place, counties face difficulties providing counsel in family or criminal court when the Public Defender and the pool of 18b attorneys have a conflict of interest with the client. Conflicts are common and can occur multiple ways including when an attorney has previously represented a client whose interests differ from the current client seeking counsel. Managing how to provide counsel when a conflict occurs while attempting to minimize costs is a challenge for any county. Based on a county's size, need and demographics, the solution to this issue differs. Many counties have adopted a Conflict Defender Office to address this need. Other counties opt to contract out conflicts to organizations such as Legal Aid and some counties, when possible, seek to expand their 18b pool.

Livingston County's solution was through this local law, creating a Conflict Defender's Office to handle matters when their Public Defender and 18b attorneys are conflicted out. Under the local law the Conflict Defender is appointed by the County Board for a term of four years. To qualify for the position the Attorney must have practiced law for a minimum of five years and practiced for a minimum of three years in Family or Criminal Court. The Conflict Defender must be a resident of the county during their term and cannot hold any other public or political office.

Then Conflict Defender is granted the power to appoint, supervise, discipline and remove assistant conflict defenders. Subject to the authorization of the Board of Supervisors the Conflict Defender may also appoint as many clerks, investigators, and other employees as deemed necessary.

Fulton County Enacts Local Law Placing a Fee on DWI Offenders Sentence to Probation
On October 13, 2016 Fulton County passed a local law charging a fee to individuals in their county sentenced to probation based on DWI offensives. The probation department administration fee is set at $30.00 per month and, as stated in the law, the fee cannot be imposed as a condition of probation. Additionally, the County Probation Director is granted the authority to waive in-part or in-whole this fee when “because of the indigence of the offender, the payment of said fee would impose an unreasonable hardship on the person convicted, or on his or her immediate family, or on any other person who is dependent upon such person for financial support.”

Under the local law, money collected shall be utilized to further probation services by the county probation department and shall not be used to replace state or federal funding that is used for probation services.