ALBANY, NY (03/17/2017) (readMedia)-- Claire P. Gutekunst, president of the New York State Bar Association, issued the following statement upon adoption of the one-house budget bills by the Senate and the Assembly:
"The New York State Bar Association calls upon the Governor and the Assembly to join with the Senate in adopting a bill to adequately fund indigent criminal legal defense services statewide without increasing the biennial attorney registration fee.
"It is New York State's obligation and, thus, a societal obligation, to provide these critically important, constitutionally mandated legal services to low-income New Yorkers. They should be paid for out of the General Fund, not by targeting lawyers with an unfair surcharge."
The 1963 Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright held that each State has a constitutional obligation to provide representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford lawyers. Thereafter, New York State imposed this obligation on the counties.
After the State was sued in the Hurrell-Harring case for failure to meet its constitutional obligation in five counties, it settled and agreed to enhance funding in those counties.
In 2016, both houses of the Legislature passed a bill that would have phased in full State funding of indigent criminal defense services across the state. The State Bar Association strongly supported this bill, consistent with its long-standing priority to have the State meet its constitutional obligation by adequately funding quality indigent criminal defense services. The Association urged the Governor to sign the bill when it reached his desk. However, the Governor vetoed the bill on December 31, 2016.
The Governor's executive budget for the 2017 legislative session proposed additional State funding to bring the quality of representation in all other counties to the level to which the State had agreed for five counties in the Hurrell-Harring settlement. However, the Governor proposed that a portion of the State's costs be met by a $50 increase in the biennial attorney registration fee, which currently is $375.
The State Bar Association has strongly objected to this proposed funding mechanism. The Senate budget bill calls for all the additional funding without any increase in lawyer registration fees, whereas the Assembly budget bill includes this problematic fee increase.
The 72,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.