Defenders Honor Colleagues, Legislators, For Public Defense Accomplishments

DeFrancisco and Fahy Recognized for State Reimbursement to Counties Bill

ALBANY, NY (07/26/2016)(readMedia)-- The New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA), during its Annual Conference, recognized two legislators and three others for accomplishments furthering justice and assisting NYSDA's mission to improve public defense services. The commendations were presented at an awards event held in Saratoga Springs on Monday, July 25, 2016.

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader John A. DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) received the Service of Justice Award for their bipartisan legislation that, if signed into law, will require the State to incrementally reimburse counties for the costs of providing legal services to people who have a right to counsel and cannot afford a lawyer. The bill, which unanimously passed both houses of the Legislature at the end of its session, would relieve counties of the mandate pressed upon them by the State in 1965 following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v Wainwright. Because it also authorizes the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS) to promulgate rules and regulations regarding public defense, the legislation will alleviate long-identified deficiencies in the system. And it will end inequities that arose from the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the State challenging those deficiencies; the settlement, reached last year, provides for improvements, to be funded by the State, only in five counties that were added as defendants because they were cited as examples of statewide deficiencies.

"These two legislators, who led the rest of their respective houses to pass watershed legislation to improve mandated legal services and remedy long-standing fiscal injustice, deserve this award; when the Governor signs it, the bill will be a beacon that shines across America lighting the way to Gideon implementation," said NYSDA Executive Director Jonathan E. Gradess, who presented the award. The landmark right to counsel case referred to, Gideon v Wainwright, was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court 53 years ago; working to effectively implement it in New York is a core aspect of NYSDA's mission.

Also receiving the Service of Justice Award was County Attorney Stephen D. Button of St. Lawrence County, who worked to educate county officials and others across the state about the need for the reimbursement legislation and assisted in its passage. A former Public Defender, Button received a plaque reading "For your unwavering commitment to quality public defense, and your political commitment to bring it about." All three Service of Justice Awards were presented by NYSDA Executive Director Jonathan E. Gradess. Fahy said when told of the awards, "I am proud of this work with Senator DeFrancisco, along with the advocacy of so many, including outstanding help from County Attorney Button on this important legislation."

Joanne Macri, Director of Regional Initiatives for the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS), became the first woman to receive NYSDA's Wilfred R. O'Connor Award, presented to a client-centered lawyer who has been in practice fifteen or more years. Macri was honored for the many ways in which she has worked to ensure that lawyers know about and help their clients avoid or mitigate potential immigration consequences in criminal cases or Family Court. Macri has handled or assisted in many individual criminal and family law cases; taught law students and lawyers both substantive law and ways to get help; engaged in drafting standards for representation of immigrant clients; and worked for systemic change through community organizing, education events, and advocacy campaigns to preserve the rights of immigrants. Macri formerly directed NYSDA's Immigrant Defense Project and then its Criminal Defense Immigration Project, and continues to act as a superb presenter at NYSDA training events.

"As a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) presenter at events sponsored by NYSDA and others, as a coach at NYSDA's model, week-long Basic Trial Skills Program, and in many other ways, Joanne inspires and educates lawyers to give the best possible representation to people who were born in other countries," said Edward J. Nowak, President of NYSDA's Board of Directors, who presented the award.

In her current position, Macri is engaged in implementing six statewide Regional Immigration Assistance Centers funded by ILS grants designed to make assistance for immigrant clients available statewide.

Scott Levy, Director of the Fundamental Fairness Project at The Bronx Defenders, was presented with the Kevin M. Andersen Memorial Award by Genesee County Public Defender Jerry Ader, whose office created the award. The letter nominating Levy for the award said that "In the span of just eight years as an attorney, Scott has made incredible contributions to his clients and to the field of indigent defense by developing creative public policy advocacy and impact litigation strategies informed by individual representation." Robin Steinberg, Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders, also noted in that letter that Levy, who worked for The Bronx Defenders as an investigative intern and then as an investigator before obtaining his Harvard Law degree and rejoining the organization as a lawyer, "has been instrumental in leading The Bronx Defenders' work" in a recently-filed class-action lawsuit, Trowbridge et al. v Cuomo et al., challenging serious Bronx court delays.


The New York State Defenders Association's Service of Justice Award recognizes individuals or organizations that have provided outstanding support to public defense and to the Association.

The Wilfred R. O'Connor Award, named in honor of founding member and long-time President of NYSDA, Bill O'Connor, is presented to an attorney who has been in practice fifteen or more years, practices in the area of public defense, and exemplifies the client-centered sense of justice, persistence, and compassion that characterized Bill's life.

The Kevin M. Andersen Memorial Award "is presented to an attorney who has been in practice less than fifteen years, practices in the area of indigent defense, and exemplifies the sense of justice, determination, and compassion" that were the hallmarks of its namesake. Kevin M. Andersen was a lifelong public defender known for his anger at injustice, his will to fight ferociously for his clients, and the compassion to grant clients "the dignity each deserved as a human being despite whatever human frailties they might present." The award was created by the Genesee County Public Defender Office.