Defenders Honor Senator DeFrancisco for Legislation to Improve Public Defense, Relieve Counties of Mandate

Bill for State to Reimburse Counties for Representation Leads to Award

ALBANY, NY (07/26/2016)(readMedia)-- John A. DeFrancisco, New York State Senate Deputy Majority Leader (R-Syracuse), received the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) Service of Justice Award Monday, July 25, 2016, for sponsoring and securing passage of legislation to require the State to reimburse counties for the cost of providing mandated legal representation. DeFrancisco's bill passed the Senate and then the Assembly in the closing days of the legislative session and now awaits the Governor's signature.

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy was a Service of Justice Award co-awardee. She introduced legislation last year to address the conjoined issues of the burden placed on counties by, and deficiencies in, public defense representation resulting from the current system, put in place in 1965 following the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v Wainwright.

"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.

Counties are currently responsible for providing legal services constitutionally and statutorily mandated for those unable to afford a lawyer, with the State providing only limited fiscal assistance. Deficiencies in public defense services resulted in unfairness across the state – and in a lawsuit against the State by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2007. Five counties used as exemplars of the State's failure were added as defendants by the court; settlement of the suit last year included terms for improving the quality of public defense services, using state funds, in those counties. Other counties were left to continue struggling to fulfill justice and bear most of the cost. In part due to this inequity, passage of the reimbursement bill was supported by county officials.

Also receiving a Service of Justice Award on Monday 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.

NYSDA's Service of Justice Award recognizes individuals or organizations that have provided outstanding support to public defense and the Association.