Indigent Defense Aid to Start Flowing to Counties
July 29th, 2011

The State Office of Indigent Legal Services, which was created by the legislature last June, has taken one of the first steps to fulfill its role in overseeing and boosting the state’s indigent legal services.

The agency is charged with doling on $4.4 in aid to counties to help them bolster their public defender system. The agency solicited proposals from counties on ways to streamline their legal aid work and the agency decided which ideas to fund. Now the ILS is set to start handing out the cash. William Leahy, director of the ILS tells me that the first 11 contracts have been sent out to counties across the state–once they are signed and returned the counties will receive their part of the $4.4 million.

Counties that should be expecting contracts soon are: Chenango, Delaware, Franklin, Herkimer, Livingston, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Washington, Wyoming and Yates. Leahy said a steady flow of contracts to the rest of the state’s counties should begin in the next few weeks.

The state’s indigent defense system has been under attack for quite some time for failing to provide sufficient legal services. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Attorney General Eric Scheniderman and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have all stated they believe the system needs fixing. It is up to the Office of Indigent Legal Services and its board to come up with recommendations and solutions. The NYCLU also has a lawsuit pending against the state that charges the state failed to provide adequate legal services.

Critics point out that the ILS has already had its budget slashed by the legislature and does not have enough funding to recommend and enact changes in a timely manner–meanwhile they say, justice is not being served.

“If your a cynic you can look at it as a small step,” Leahy said of sending out the first contracts, “but we look at it as an important step forward.” Leahy said that when discussing indigent services with county officials he was repeatedly told, that it was the first time they had ever, “talked to anyone from the state about public defense and what they need.”

Leahy admits that the optimal situation would be to have one state agency to govern the standards of indigent defense across the state, “so there is equal representation that doesn’t depend on an individual county’s resources.” He also admits that the economics may dictate that a system of that sort has to wait.

By on July 29, 2011, 2:20 pm
In category: Albany,Crime & Safety,Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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