On February 27, 2017, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and American Council of Chief Defenders (ACCD) wrote to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to urge him to maintain the independence of New York’s Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS). Governor Cuomo’s proposed Executive Budget for FY2018 would fund groundbreaking statewide improvements to public defense through ILS, but would place oversight for these funds in the Governor’s Division of Budget, undermining the independence of ILS. Read NLADA’s and ACCD’s response here.
Over the past decade, New York has made major advances toward meeting national standards of public defense. In 2010, ILS was created in response to a report of the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services. The 2014 Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York settlement empowered ILS to develop and implement caseload and quality standards in five counties. The 2016 Justice Equality Act would have expanded ILS’ work statewide and required the state to reimburse all of the counties’ public defense costs; the Legislature passed the bill unanimously, but it was vetoed by the Governor.
In their letter, NLADA and ACCD explained the importance of independence to ILS’ mission: “Independence is the fundamental feature of quality public defense, and the first of the Ten Principles. Public defenders who are independent from undue executive and judicial oversight are attorneys who serve their clients first, without fear of political retribution. They are a critical, constitutional check on the fairness of the criminal justice system.”
NLADA and ACCD are part of a coalition of national, state, and local organizations, led by the New York State Defenders Association, that has called for independent oversight of public defense in New York. The American Bar Association wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo on February 24. On February 28, representatives of the Chief Defenders Association of New York, Albany County, New York State Catholic Conference, and the New York Legal Aid Society held a press conference to urge the Governor to restore the reforms of last year’s Justice Equality Act; watch and listen to their interviews with local news outlets.
NLADA and ACCD advocate for independence of public defense nationwide. Contact [email protected] to share your story and get involved.