Bill Expanding Attorney Fees and Expert Fees Passes Legislature

By Cheyenne Burke

Bill Expanding Attorney Fees and Expert Fees Passes Legislature

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The New York Legislature passed a bill last week that would allow courts to issue attorney fees and expert fees in all discrimination cases under the New York Human Rights law. Under current law, attorney fees are permissible in limited discrimination claims and expert fees are not authorized by statute.

The bill sailed through the Assembly and Senate with minor debate. The bill was commended as a fundamental step to ensure individuals whose rights have been violated are afforded their day in court with competent counsel. The bill has yet to be delivered to the governor, but if signed, would take effect 90 days after his signing.

The importance of adequate attorney’s fees to ensure client access to the justice system cannot be understated and remains one of the association’s top legislative priorities. Over the years, the legislature has enacted reforms aimed to ensure access to the courts. However, the success of many of these reforms depend on the availability of sufficient, qualified attorneys. Unfortunately, the funding to ensure that necessary attorney resources are available remains insufficient.

The assigned counsel rates, or “18-B rates,” have not been increased in nearly two decades. Attorneys serving on 18-B panels provide representation in Family Court, Surrogates Court, Supreme and Criminal Court. Assigned counsel programs allows for those with limited funds to access the justice. When assigned counsel rates don’t reflect the modern costs of representations, it creates a scarcity of attorneys for a growing need. Simply put, these rates must be raised to ensure every New Yorker can access an attorney.

Currently before the legislature, is proposal (S.3527/A.6013) championed by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblyman William Magnarelli. This bill provides these essential increases to the hourly assigned counsel rate and mandates the state, not the counties, bear the cost. With a few short weeks left in the legislative session, the association urges the passage of this legislation.

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