NYCLU Sues the State Over Failure of Public Defense
In November, 2007, The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit charging New York State with failure to uphold its constitutional duty to provide effective counsel in cases where public defense is mandated.
In August, 2008, the lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss, and five counties were joined as defendants. Several former Court of Appeals Judges -- Joseph Bellacosa, George Bundy Smith, Stewart F. Hancock and others -- editorialized about the value of settling. They argue that the counties and the State would benefit from the settlement as would the plaintiffs, because more can be controlled through negotiation than through litigation.
In July 2009, the Third Department of the Appellate Division dismissed the complaint in the NYCLU constitutional challenge to New York State's public defense system. Two judges, in a great dissent, set out why the majority opinion is simply wrong.
The Campaign does agree with one aspect of the majority opinion -- the Executive and Legislative branches should resolve this issue without recourse to the courts. Even if the court decision is appealed to the Court of Appeals, we aren't waiting for it. We continue to push for an Independent Public Defense Commission now.
The Campaign Manager has released a statement, as has Michael Whiteman, Chair of the Committee for an Independent Public Defense Commission. In a nutshell, the Third Department failed to prevent injustice, leaving it up to the Legislature and Governor -- and to us.
Watch this video from the NYCLU to learn more about the lawsuit: