Friday, April 1, 2011

Budget Cuts threaten to Gut Fledgling Reform

The Indigent Legal Services Office (ILS Office), which just got started with the appointment of a director in February of this year, will have an operational budget of only $1.5 million for FY 2011. This is half of the $3 million annual budget envisioned when the Office was created. Born of political compromise, couched in language claiming that a $1.5 million "increase" had been rejected, the budget shortfall threatens to hinder the ILS Office's reform efforts.

The Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission decried the cut in a press release on March 28. William Leahy, newly hired Director of the ILS Office and former head of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, also expressed his disappointment. He noted that the progress that the ILS Office and Board have already made in "working creatively and cooperatively with county executives and indigent defense leaders to improve the quality of that representation" will "require more adequate funding than has yet been provided,"

When the Campaign announced last November that the new ILS Board had met and begun a national search for a Director, we said, "Our efforts to see widespread meaningful change in the form of an Independent Public Defense Commission will continue." Those efforts include monitoring threats to advances made so far, like the budget cut reported here, and responding to those threats.

Jonathan E. Gradess, the Campaign Manager, discussed the cut on The Capitol Pressroom on WCNY radio on March 31.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Indigent Legal Services Board Meets, Begins Director Search

At last, all positions on the Indigent Legal Services Board created by statute earlier this year have been filled! The Board held its first meeting on November 1st, and is embarking on a national search to fill the position of Director of the Office of Indigent Legal Services. While this Board is not the Independent Public Defense Commission we still believe New York State needs, its creation holds great promise for improving public defense services. The Campaign thanks its supporters, who helped bring about this first step in much-needed reform in how New York State addresses its public defense responsibility. Our efforts to see widespread meaningful change in the form of an Independent Public Defense Commission will continue; we look forward to your continued help.

The members of the Board are:
• Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman
• Michael G. Breslin (Albany County Executive)
• Judge Sheila DiTullio (Erie County Court Judge)
• John R. Dunne (former member of the Kaye Commission)
• Gail Gray (NYC criminal defense attorney)
• Susan V. John (currently, Assemblywoman from Rochester)
• Joseph C. Mareane (Tompkins County Administrator)
• Leonard Noisette (former director of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
• Susan Sovie (Watertown Family Court attorney)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Bill Creating a Board and Office of Indigent Defense Services has Passed

The Senate passed the Public Protection budget bill containing a public defense reform measure (Part E) late Monday (June 21). The Assembly had acted on Friday, and the bill was sent to the Governor's office Monday night. The Governor’s press release refers very briefly to the public defense reform provision.

This legislation does not create a fully state funded, statewide public defense system headed by an independent commission. It does create an office and board authorized to "monitor, study, and make efforts to improve the quality of services provided under County Law article 18-B" (which covers public defenders, legal aid offices, assigned counsel, and, now, conflict offices, and includes Family Court representation, which earlier reform proposals this year did not.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Public Defense Bill to be Included in Public Protection Budget

Governor Paterson just announced a new bill to create an Office of Indigent Legal Services and an Indigent Legal Services Board, in the Executive Department, to be responsible for overseeing and improving the quality of public defense services. See the press release here.

The bill differs in some respects from the bill included in the Executive Budget back in January, and has the support of the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary as well as the New York Association of Counties. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is to chair the Board, noted that the current public defense system has “produced very uneven results over the years and is broken” and said he is very gratified by the agreement reflected in the legislation.

Watch for details here soon!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Times Editorial Lauds Lippman's Calls for Justice

The New York Times has lauded Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman for his May 6 opinion reinstating the NYCLU lawsuit against New York State and 5 counties for what the Times called "glaring dysfunction in the state’s county-by-county indigent defense system." The editorial also noted approvingly Lippman's Law Day speech in which he supported ensuring counsel for poor people in civil disputes like evictions and foreclosures in which basic needs are at stake.

Saying that adequate legal representation for all is fundamental to justice, the Times added, "That is especially important in tough times."

These are tough times. State legislators and the Governor have been unable to pass a state budget; public defense reform is just one of many important issues caught in the impasse. We remain hopeful that the public defense reform measures proposed by the Governor back in January, with improvements by the Assembly and Senate, will be included in the final budget. Our state leaders should recognize, as did the Times, that fundamental justice must be tended to in these hard economic times.