ALBANY, NY (07/26/2016)(readMedia)-- Stephen D. Button did not leave his interest in public defense policy issues behind when he resigned as Public Defender of St. Lawrence County last year. In his new position as County Attorney he pursued a path that led the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) to present him its Service of Justice Award on Monday, July 25, 2016. Two others also received this highest NYSDA honor. The co-awardees were Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco; they sponsored legislation passed recently that will, if it becomes law, bring about full state reimbursement of counties' expenditures for providing legal representation to those who cannot afford counsel. Button worked to secure the bill's passage.
"For your unwavering commitment to quality public defense, and your political commitment to bring it about," read the plaque Button received. The award was presented by NYSDA Executive Director Jonathan E. Gradess.
Button worked to educate county officials and others across the state about the need to support the reimbursement legislation. For example, in October 2015 he hosted a meeting of county attorneys, county executives, and public defenders in Syracuse about pressing the State to take on the costs of and responsibility for mandated legal representation. And he continued to push, as North Country Public Radio reported on March18, 2016, the fifty-third anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v Wainwright, which recognized the right to counsel regardless of ability to pay. Button's efforts, the work of his co-awardees, and the support of public defense advocates across the state paid off.
The bill now awaiting the Governor's signature gives the NYS Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS), created by legislation passed in 2010, the authority "to adopt, promulgate, amend or rescind rules and regulations" to "improve the quality of mandated representation" including several specific issues.
"St. Lawrence County is pleased that the New York State Legislature has heard the call to alleviate the burden of unfunded mandates and ensure the protection guaranteed in the Constitution that the accused shall enjoy the right to counsel, funded appropriately and equitably," Button said in a NYSDA news release announcing the bill's passage. He credited the hard work of Fahy and DeFrancisco, his co-awardees, and many others.
NYSDA's Service of Justice Award recognizes individuals or organizations that have provided outstanding support to public defense and the Association. Past recipients have included the New York State Association of Counties (1982), former State Senator John Dunne (1998), Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve (2002), National Public Radio Correspondent Joseph Shapiro (2014) and many defense attorneys and others providing stellar assistance to public defense and NYSDA.