The New York state bar association and a commission appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye say the state needs one comprehensive publicly funded criminal defense system for the poor, the Albany Times Union reports. In 2004, the state legislature increased fees for assigned counsel to a range of $60 to $75 an hour from $25 to $40 an hour. Because the state didn’t provide money to help cash-strapped counties pay for the higher costs, at least 35 counties stopped hiring outside attorneys to do defense work. They opted instead to set up in-house offices, which were not subject to the higher rates, to save money.
Since then, the state’s 62 counties have established more than 122 individualized programs to defend the poor, with no cohesion, unified standards or consistent format, said Ray Kelly, president of the state’s Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He said, “They are talking about setting up a statewide public defender office that would be responsible for handling 60 percent of the state’s cases. They would then set up a statewide system of assigned counsel to handle any conflicts.” The commission’s plan is 43 years overdue: Kelly said New York should have set up a unified indigent defense system in 1963, after the landmark court ruling Gideon vs. Wainwright mandated legal representation for all poor people.