New York County Lawyers Association Issues Statement on the Passing
of the New York State Budget: The Fight for Fair Compensation is Not Yet Over
The New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA), today issued the following statement:
The New York State budget, finalized after a month-long delay, reflected two profoundly important NYCLA priorities concerning access to justice and judicial independence.
First, the budget did NOT contain certain “one house” provisions in a Senate bill that were intended to undermine, and even embarrass, the judiciary. As Justice Mary M. Farley, president of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, stated, these provisions “threatened to undermine” the “independence of the judiciary and respect for the separation of powers.”
These provisions sought, among other things, to focus intense legislative scrutiny on the training of judges, despite the fact that New York judges are well trained, and despite the fact that such scrutiny would constitute an improper legislative invasion into the judicial process. The goal, undoubtedly, was to evaluate judicial decision-making in New York through a political lens. The one house bill also sought to mandate individualized public reporting, by judge, of raw statistics such as case disposition rates, without taking into account different case dockets, caseload volumes and the like which vary considerably across the state and even within the same courthouse depending on the nature of the cases assigned to a particular part. Additionally, the Senate’s one house bill had provisions requiring disclosure, again by judge, of security arrangements. These provisions, which we found were not-too-subtle attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary, were dropped from the bill as finally adopted. We applaud the statement of State Assemblyman Charles Lavine in opposing these provisions: “It’s the obligation of the American democratic government for legislators to give deference and respect to the judiciary . . . We have to do everything we can to protect and promote independent judiciary.”
Second, the budget provided for a state-wide increase in assigned counsel fees under County Law Article 18-B, as constitutionally required, from $75 per hour to $158 per hour, the same rate as is paid in federal court. This long overdue measure was passed following a lawsuit NYCLA brought, where we prevailed in asserting that the lower rate operated to deprive defendants of effective counsel. In our litigation last year, the court noted that “the plaintiffs have demonstrated that the quality of legal representation for children and indigent adults, as well as their due process rights would continue to decline without a preliminary injunction.” New York County Lawyers Assn. v. State of New York, 2022 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 11270, *8 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2022). We expect that the increase will help retain attorneys in the program, which is necessary to provide effective representation to indigent clients.
We thank pro bono counsel Kramer Levin for their incredible work. However, the fight for fair compensation is not yet over. The new legislation maintains an artificially determined cap on assigned counsel compensation of $10,000, a cap which can only be exceeded by a finding of extraordinary circumstances. The legislation also lacks a cost-of-living escalator, meaning that inflation will erode the legislatively determined rates which will bring about a need for more litigation in the future. However, we celebrate the partial legislative victory and remain committed to working for fair compensation for assigned counsel through any necessary additional efforts, including litigation.
NYCLA is proud to have taken a leading role on both of these critical issues. We are pleased that our voice was heard and will continue to speak out in support of enhanced access to justice and judicial independence.
About the New York County Lawyers Association
The New York County Lawyers Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as one of the first major bar associations in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender, and has a long history of supporting the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Since its inception, NYCLA has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence. For more information on NYCLA please visit nycla.org.
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