News Release ~ 02/04/2010

Bar Groups, Law Centers and Faculty Support Right of Poor Persons Accused of Crime to Challenge New York State’s Broken Indigent Defense System

Washington, DC - (February 4, 2010) – A diverse group of bar associations representing 100,000 lawyers, and law centers and dozens of law professors from all of New York State’s 15 law schools is urging courts to address New York’s broken system for providing legal representation to poor defendants in criminal cases. The group filed a joint amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in support of plaintiffs in a case who claim that legal services for the poor are constitutionally inadequate to ensure equal justice under law.

NACDL’s amicus brief to the New York Court of Appeals supports a challenge to the adequacy of New York State’s indigent defense system brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The motion for leave to file the brief was filed yesterday. The primary issue is whether the Court should address the constitutional claim or leave it to a case-by-case attack after a conviction.

The alliance is united in the view that if the state’s system of indigent defense is constitutionally inadequate, a court must say so and fix it. The alliance includes the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State Bar Association, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, New York County Lawyers’ Association, Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law, Jacob Burns Center for Ethics in the Practice of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Criminal Justice Center at Pace University School of Law, Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality at CUNY School of Law, and 40 New York law professors from all 15 law schools in New York State. Amici urge the court to reverse the Third Department’s 3-2 dismissal of plaintiffs’ action.

Among the amici on the brief is the New York State Bar Association, the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. NYSBA President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City) said “We are proud to lend the voice and support of our 77,000 members to the many distinguished organizations that are working together on this extremely important issue, and look forward to partnering with all interested parties to remedy the inadequacies of the state’s indigent defense system and to promote the fair administration of justice for all citizens.”

“The New York State Bar Association has long been an advocate for ensuring that indigent criminal defendants receive the quality legal representation that is a constitutionally guaranteed right under the Sixth Amendment,” he added.

The brief was written by lead counsel Susan J. Walsh, a partner at Moskowitz, Book & Walsh, LLP in New York City, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and NACDL Assistant Director of Public Affairs & Communications Ivan J. Dominguez.

“The rule the Court adopts here must recognize that constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel cannot be put beyond the reach of the courts,” Walsh explained. “The decision in this case will permanently define the contours of the right to counsel in New York State and will have profound consequences for indigent reform efforts throughout the country.” She added that “The sheer breadth of the lawyers and institutions in support of plaintiffs’ claim underscores the critical importance of the case and the constitutional stakes of the claim.”

NACDL’s Norman Reimer said, “As we explain in the brief, this Court’s decision on whether to permit these claims to be heard will materially affect whether the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel is a baseline right to a fair process, or a hazy, aspirational goal that is vindicated only in the most extreme cases of abuse or denial.”

The case is Hurrell-Harring et al. v. New York. The brief is available on NACDL’s Web site at: http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/newsissues/amicus_attachments/$FILE/Hurrell_Amicus.pdf

Contacts:  

  • Susan J. Walsh, Esq.
    Moskowitz, Book & Walsh, LLP
    (212) 221-7999
  • Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director
    National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
    (202) 872-8600 ext. 223
  • Michael Getnick, President
    New York State Bar Association (NYSBA)
    (518) 463-3200
  • Ann Lesk, President
    New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA)
    (212) 267-6646
  • Richard D. Willstatter, Chair, Amicus Curiae Committee
    New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
    (914) 948-5656
  • Professor Adele Bernhard
    The Criminal Justice Center at Pace University School of Law
    (914) 422-4205
  • Professor Steve Zeidman
    On behalf of individual New York State Law Professors
    Director, Criminal Defense Clinic
    CUNY School of Law
    (718) 340-4357

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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