ALBANY, NY (07/26/2016)(readMedia)-- Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) received a Service of Justice Award from the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) Monday night, during the Association's Annual Conference. Fahy authored and strongly advocated for legislation to require the State to reimburse counties for the cost of providing public defense services. The Legislature passed the resulting bill at the end of its session this year.
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. Lacking the capacity to provide the requisite quality representation, counties have struggled since the inception of the current system in 1965, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v Wainwright, to meet this underfunded mandate. 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.
That inequity fueled the desire for legislative change. Fahy has thanked Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy and former Judge Larry Rosen for bringing the issue to her attention; she went on to make it her own. The legislation is intended not only to relieve counties of a financial obligation but "to ensure access to quality legal representation for all New Yorkers," Fahy's website notes.
Reaching out to the other house of the Legislature, Fahy began working with Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who also received a Service of Justice Award Monday. "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.
Also receiving a 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 to support the reimbursement legislation.
NYSDA's Service of Justice Award recognizes individuals or organizations that have provided outstanding support to public defense and the Association.