We are all familiar with the constitutional requirement to provide counsel to those accused who are unable to afford it. Perhaps many of us are less familiar with New York’s statutory provision for providing representation, and Monroe County’s plan to do so.
Article18-B of the New York State County Law authorizes each county to choose one or a combination of several options for providing representation to eligible clients: a public defender office, a private legal aid bureau, or assignment of private practitioners pursuant to an assigned counsel plan (NYS County Law §722).
The objective of any representation plan should be to ensure high quality legal services for every person represented under the plan. A county is entitled to consider costs as a relevant factor in devising its representation plan but it cannot ignore its constitutional, statutory and moral duty to provide quality counsel to those who cannot afford representation.
Monroe County has elected a mixed representation system that integrates the use of two institutional providers — the Monroe County Public Defender Office and the Monroe County Conflict Defender Office, which administers an assigned counsel panel of approximately 200 attorneys.
The current plan was adopted in 2003, and approved by Monroe County, the Monroe County Bar Association and the New York State Unified Court System by the Hon. Jonathan Lippman, who was then chief administrative judge.
In November 2013, as part of its due diligence, the County of Monroe issued two Requests For Proposal in an effort to determine whether other systems would maintain quality at lower costs. The county notified the bar association of its RFP and invited our participation.
That invitation began a series of meetings between the county administration and the bar association. During those discussions, the parties agreed to review the 2003 plan and discuss potential amendments. Those discussions led to a first draft provided by the county on Feb. 21.
The bar association is now gathering the data necessary to analyze that draft. We are meeting with the judiciary and our members to see if the now 11-year-old plan can be improved. We will also be soliciting community input. We are gathering opinions from other bars and from the NYS Office of Indigent Legal Services. We are relying on resources from the ABA and NYSBA. We are reviewing case law as well as plans from other jurisdictions.
The bar’s goal is quality representation of the indigent accused. We take that responsibility seriously.
To review the 2003 plan, visit www.mcba.org and click on the link for indigent legal services.
We welcome your ideas and comments on the plan or any potential modifications.
Diane M. Cecero is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and general counsel at Monroe Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.