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Public Defenders Case Goes to New York Court of Appeals

By Kamika Dunlap on March 17, 2010 10:45 AM

All eyes are on a class action suit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) challenging the state's failed public defender program. The New York public defenders case will be heard by the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Many argue that, like many other states, New York's public defender program is filled with poorly trained and poorly supervised lawyers handling huge caseloads.

A class-action suit will be argued in the New York Court of Appeals in the upcoming weeks.

According to the New York Times, the public defender program is financially strapped and facing a crisis while many clients are failed by their appointed lawyers. The NYCLU lawsuit claims the public defender program operates at best through a patchwork system.

Lawyers for the NYCLU argue a broad review is necessary to address systematic failings that often leave defendants without proper representation.

The state argues, however, that by appointing lawyers it fulfills its constitutional obligations, according to one filing.

In 2006, a commission said that the NY public defenders program did not provide effective representation. Now, the state will have to defend the flawed locally financed system.

Gov. David A. Paterson has acknowledged the problems within the current system. He proposed the creation of an Office of Indigent Defense to evaluate the system and the bill would provide $7 million increase in state subsidies.

About 80 percent of felony defendants in large states are too poor to hire their own lawyers, the New York Times reports.

As this case is being watched around the nation it will decide a crucial issue of how public defender programs will shape the future of the criminal justice system.

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