Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Indigent Counsel Plan Upheld

The New York Court of Appeals has rejected a claim by county bar associations to New York City's  2010 system for providing counsel to indigents in cases where there is a conflict of interest.

The court held that "the City may assign conflicts cases to institutional providers, that its ability to do so is not contingent on the consent of the county bar associations and that the City's proposed indigent defense plan does not run afoul of the County Law or Municipal Home Rule Law."

At issue were two plans for indigent representation that did not include the assent of the bar associations.

Chief Judge Lippman wrote a dissent, joined by two judges:

The City may have very sound reasons for the changes it proposes, but as it goes about altering, perhaps irretrievably, the network of indigent defense service providers that has been in place for some 47 years, it would seem than than ordinarily important to insist upon compliance with the limitations contained in county Law, section 722, among them that bar association consent be obtained as a condition of a City plan purporting to rely on "a plan of a bar association." This is not simply a question of logic and manners. The purpose of the statute is to assure that there will be quality reptresentation for indigent defendants...and toward that end the Legislature has, quite reasonably, required localities to act cooperatively with the bar associations whose members are to be drawn upon for their professional services. If the panels are to be retained and usefully administered as a representational resource, it would be prudent and natural that it would be according to a sustained plan devised not only by the City but also in part by legal professionals concerned first and foremost with the delivery of quality representation. That is, in any event, what the statute requires and what municipal discretion therefore is not appropriately invoked to excuse.

(Mike Frisch)


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