The number of criminal cases that New York City public defenders handle will be capped for the first time under a new state law, reports the New York Times. It addresses longstanding pleas from low-paid defenders, who sometimes juggle more than 100 cases at a time. The defenders have complained that large caseloads impede their ability to provide the best advocacy and damage their clients' chances of getting a fair hearing. The state's chief administrative judge must establish caseload standards for public defenders by April 1, 2010. There was no early indication what the cap would be, but in 1995 an appellate court set guidelines that amounted to public defenders handling roughly 70 cases at a time.
The move to address the caseloads in New York City comes amid a national uprising of sorts by public defenders. In at least seven states, government-appointed lawyers either have refused to take new cases or have filed lawsuits to limit them. “People do look to New York to establish different policies,” said David Carroll of the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association . “We do hope that this becomes a model both for reform for the rest of the state and, hopefully, a model for other large urban centers.”