State Budget Makes Progress Toward Protecting Legal Access for Children & Indigent Adults, But More Must Be Done
Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the New York State Bar Association, issued the following statement about the assigned counsel language included in the 2023-24 state budget bills passing today:
“We appreciate that Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders have recognized the state’s responsibility to protect the constitutional right to counsel for children and indigent adults who cannot afford to hire their own lawyer.
The enacted budget is finally raising the pay of assigned counsel outside of New York City, which has not been increased in nearly two decades, leading to an alarming shortage of attorneys who can afford to take on these cases in the criminal and family courts.”
“However, the New York State Bar Association’s policy calls for having the cost for this critical service fully funded by the state and not as an unfunded mandated shouldered by local communities. This is not currently the case. It is also disappointing that the budget lacks a cost-of-living increase for assigned counsel attorneys, which raises the threat that we will again be back where we started in short order.
We call on the Legislature and the governor to work together to establish a stable, sustainable, and recurring source of funding to benefit all the needy individuals who require the services of court-appointed attorneys. Ensuring that every New Yorker can realize their constitutional right to fair and quality representation is incumbent on all of us. Failure to do so is an injustice that can no longer stand.”
In November of 2022, the New York State Bar Association filed a suit to compel the state to raise pay to $164 an hour in the 57 counties outside of New York City, the same rate paid to court-appointed attorneys in New York’s federal courts. That suit is still pending.
In July of 2022, in response to a suit filed by the New York County Lawyers Association and other bar associations, state Supreme Court Justice Lisa Headley issued a preliminary injunction requiring that pay for assigned counsel in New York City be increased to $158 an hour.