FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Anita Aboulafia (212) 267-6646, ext. 225 (phone) (212) 406-9252 (fax) aaboulafia@.nvcla.org
NYCLA President Testifies Before NYS Commission on the Future of
Indigent Defense Services
March 23, 2005 – Ithaca, NY – The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA), proposed a series of far- reaching reforms in testimony today before the New York State Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services, which has been holding hearings across New York State. NYCLA’s President, Norman L. Reimer, called for the creation of a statewide Indigent Defense Board to monitor all indigent defense providers, conduct annual evaluations and serve as a central funding agency for indigent defense. The proposed Board would discharge its responsibilities through a number of Department-based Boards designed to perpetuate local involvement in the oversight of indigent defense. Mr. Reimer also urged the Commission to promulgate mandatory, statewide indigent defense standards with which all institutions and individuals who provide mandated representation to the indigent must comply.
Mr. Reimer also recommended that the Commission should advocate for compensation parity between prosecutors and defenders. Mr. Reimer cited a recent report contrasting the salaries of prosecutors with institutional providers. The starting salary of a United States attorney in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York is $73,997 and climbs to a maximum of $140,000 after nine years. The starting salary of a Legal Aid attorney is $45,419 and, after 17 years, the attorney earns $88,733. In supporting the measure, Mr. Reimer declared, “The Commission should boldly and unequivocally advocate for high-quality, adequately funded representation in all criminal cases and should renounce the myth that mandated counsel for the indigent can be provided on the cheap.”
The core of NYCLA’s proposal is embodied in these eight fundamental principles:
Access to quality counsel is a fundamental responsibility of government and is cost effective.
The defender must stand on equal footing with the prosecutor.
The true state of the indigent defense system in New York must be examined openly.
The Commission should recommend implementation of mandatory quality control.
The Commission should promulgate a plan to provide oversight and enforcement of standards to assure high-quality representation for the indigent accused.
Oversight authorities must be provided with adequate funding to fulfill their mission.
The Commission should recommend the preservation of a hybrid system that incorporates both institution al providers and private attorneys in the overall indigent defense plan.
The Commission must galvanize the profession in support of reform.
Mr. Reimer lauded the creation of the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services as “the first step in a long overdue effort at systemic reform that can make the promise of Gideon a reality for all New Yorkers.”
He urged the Commission “to seize on Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s broad mandate by acting boldly to advocate for fundamental and lasting reform that will guarantee access to high quality representation.” He noted that any effort at reform hinges on the determination of the Commission to educate and galvanize the entire profession.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, NYCLA has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.
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A copy of Mr. Reimer’s testimony is on NYCLA’s website. Log on to www.nycla.org and scroll down to the News section on NYCLA’s homepage.