NYCLA Statement On Ruling In Indigent Defense Plan Case

Monday, January 31, 2011 - 01:00

NYCLA is disappointed by the recent New York Supreme Court decision in New York County Lawyers' Association et al. v. Michael R. Bloomberg, which, while recognizing NYCLA's historic role in the indigent defense plan for New York County and the standing of NYCLA and the other county bars to challenge an alteration of that system, nevertheless rejected the argument that the City could not act unilaterally to assign conflict counsel in a manner not contemplated by the existing County Bar plans without any consultation or agreement with the County Bars.

More fundamentally, NYCLA regrets the City's decision to ignore the organized bar in adopting cost-driven measures for the provision of indigent defense that minimize oversight and create divisions of interest among the dedicated and talented providers of indigent services throughout the City.

In keeping with its longstanding commitment to access to justice and advocacy of the right to counsel for the indigent, NYCLA joined with the Bronx, Kings, Queens and Richmond County Bar Associations on June 2, 2010 in filing a lawsuit challenging the City's unilateral overturning of the indigent defense system that has operated for over 45 years through a joint plan among the City and County Bars. The indigent defense plan allowed NYCLA to be a voice for the indigent, and the mayor's unilateral action to change the system is attempting to mute that voice. On June 18, NYCLA, along with the four other county bars, filed a civil action alleging that the attempts by Mayor Bloomberg, the City of New York and the Criminal Justice Coordinator to overturn the City's indigent defense system are unconstitutional under the New York and United States constitutions.

NYCLA remains committed to doing everything in its power to improve funding for indigent defense, give meaning to the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel and ensure that the City and the mayor comply with the law in the fashioning of any indigent defense system. Ensuring a first-class indigent defense system is a moral and constitutional obligation and should be a first priority of government.