New York County Lawyers' Association Filed, In 2000, A 42 U.S.C. 1983 Action Alleging That New York State Failed To Increase Compensation For Indigent Defense Counsel And Violated Indigent Clients' Rights
NYCLA alleged that New York State's failure to increase compensation rates from 1986 levels for assigned indigent defense counsel in New York City criminal and family court proceedings violated indigent clients’ constitutional and statutory right to counsel.
New York County Lawyers' Association v. State of New York
Docket / Court 2000-102987 ( State Court ) PD-NY-0001
State/Territory New York
On April 3, 2000, the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 action in the Supreme Court for New York County against the city and state of New York and Governor George E. Pataki. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants’ failure to increase compensation rates from 1986 levels for assigned indigent defense counsel in New York City criminal and family court proceedings violated indigent clients’ constitutional and statutory right to counsel.
Plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy the alleged deficiency. Specifically, Plaintiff requested that the court issue an order requiring Defendants (1) to increase hourly compensation rates from $25 per hour of in-court work and $40 per hour of out-of-court work to $100 per hour with no distinction between rates paid for in-court and out-of-court work, (2) to remove ceilings on total compensation allowable per case, and (3) to comply with the forgoing until Defendants reformed the indigent defense system to enable it to carry out its constitutional obligations. Plaintiff further requested that the court issue a second injunctive order scheduled to take effect two months after the first order. Plaintiff requested that this second order require Defendants to (1) provide sufficient numbers of indigent defense attorneys, (2) limit caseloads, and (3) enforce existing standards and guidelines relating to assigned counsel.
On January 16, 2001, the Supreme Court for New York County (Judge Lucindo Suarez) dismissed all claims against the Governor, but held that Plaintiff had standing and stated a justiciable claim against city and state Defendants. New York County Lawyers' Association v. Pataki, 727 N.Y.S.2d 851 (Sup.Ct.N.Y.Co.2001). On May 9, 2002, the Appellate Division (Judges David B. Saxe, Ernst H. Rosenberger, Richard W. Wallach, George D. Marlow, and Louis A. Gonzalez) affirmed the decision of the Supreme Court. New York County Lawyers' Association v. State of New York, 742 N.Y.S.2d 16 (1st Dep't 2002).
On May 3, 2002, the Supreme Court for New York County (Judge Lucindo Suarez) issued a preliminary injunction requiring Defendants to increase the compensation rate to $90 per hour for both in-court and out-of-court work. The court refused, however, to issue the second requested injunctive order requiring defendants to limit caseloads and abide by performance standards on the ground that such an order would constitute judicial usurpation of the legislative function. The court also declined to declare the compensation statute unconstitutional on grounds that a trial was necessary to decide the matter. New York County Lawyers' Association v. State of New York, 745 N.Y.S.2d 376 (N.Y. Sup., 2002).
On February 5, 2003, after a bench trial, the Supreme Court for New York County (Judge Lucindo Suarez) found that inadequate statutory compensation rates generated assigned counsel shortages and denied indigent clients effective assistance of counsel in criminal and family court proceedings. The court thereby declared the statutory caps unconstitutional as applied and issued a permanent injunction requiring a rate increase to $90 per hour without distinction between in-court and out-of-court work, and without ceilings on total per case compensation, until such time as the Legislature acted to increase rates. New York County Lawyers’ Association v. State of New York, 763 N.Y.S.2d 397 (N.Y.Sup., 2003).
The city and state filed an appeal of the Supreme Court decision but on December 2, 2003, agreed to stipulate to the withdrawal of this appeal. Following the enactment of state legislation reforming the assigned counsel compensation system, the parties agreed, in November 2003, to settle the suit. The 2003 state legislation (a) increased compensation rates to $60 per hour for misdemeanors and $75 per hour for all other cases, (b) increased per-case maximums, and (c) provided that per-case maximums could be waived upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances.
We have no further information on this case.
Vidhya Reddy - 02/19/2008
NYCLA Memorandum of Law