Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson Concurrence in People v. Watkins Mentions NYCLA 18B Efforts to Increase Access to Justice

statement-letter

Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson Concurrence in People v. Watkins Mentions NYCLA 18B Efforts to Increase Access to Justice

Statements & Letters
Written by: NYCLA Officers
Published On: May 29, 2024

People v. Watkins Cited by Judge Wilson as a Case Dealing with Inadequate Representation of Assigned Council

 

In a decision last week in People v. Watkins, a case dealing with allegedly inadequate representation of assigned counsel in a criminal case, Chief Judge Wilson authored a concurring opinion in which he  noted the “acute and chronic lack of funding” for indigent defense and the “patchwork,” “dysfunctional” and “haphazard” way in which such defense historically has been provided in New York.  He also pointed out similar problems in related areas such as Family Court defense, which “remains in acute crisis.”  The same is true in Housing Court and elsewhere.

We were pleased to see in the course of his opinion that Chief Judge Wilson pointed to NYCLA’s own effort to increase the reimbursement rates for assigned counsel through the so-called 18B program, resulting in an injunction mandating an increase in pay for assigned counsel for the first time in a generation.  New York County Lawyers Association v. The State of New York, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op. 32476[U] at *2 [Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2022].  We are proud to have played a part in achieving this increase, which essentially doubled the rate of compensation for assigned counsel, after a long period of stagnation, and matching the rate that identical assigned counsel get paid in federal court.  Adequate pay for assigned counsel is essential to fulfilling the constitutional requirement, recognized since the landmark 1965 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, that defendants in criminal cases receive an adequate defense.

While this single decision does not and cannot fulfill the entire range of matters on which indigent persons receive inadequate representation, we were pleased that Chief Judge Wilson noted our efforts, and we wish to join with him in his efforts to improve indigent representation throughout the State.  We also wish to thank Michael Dell of Kramer Levin for his representation, pro bono, of NYCLA in this case.