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New York Settles Indigent Defense Suit; $5.5 Million in Attorney Fees

Plaintiffs filed a state court class-action suit alleging the system of indigent legal services for defendants in New York criminal cases was unconstitutionally deficient. On October 22, 2014, the state and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which, along with the New York law firm of Schulte, Roth & Zabel (S,R&Z), had been assisting the defendants pro bono, announced a sweeping settlement of the lawsuit which included $5.5 million in attorney fees.

The plaintiffs filed suit against New York, the governor of New York and the counties of Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington alleging the provision of indigent legal services to criminal defendants was less than the representation mandated by Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). The settlement gave the counties 6 months to devise a written plan to provide adequate representation for indigent criminal defendants--starting with Arraignment--and 20 months to fully implement the plan. It required the state to provide $3.5 million to fund the planning and implementation in Fiscal Years 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 and to continue to bear the additional costs of implementation in the future. It also required the establishment of criteria and procedures for determining when a criminal defendant is indigent and for tracking and limiting the maximum caseload of attorneys providing indigent representation. The settlement expires 71/2 years after its effective date.

The plaintiffs were represented by NYCLU attorneys Corey Stoughton, Christopher Dunn, Mariko Hirose, Erin Harrist, Philip Desgranges and Dana Wolfe and S,R&Z attorneys Gary Stein, Daniel Greenberg, Kristie Blase, Matthew Schmidt, Daniel Cohen, Amanda Jawad, Noah Gillespie and Peter Shadzik. The settlement included $2.5 million in attorney fees paid to the NYCLU and $3 million paid to S,R&Z.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the settlement addressed "longstanding inequities and ensures fulfillment of the constitutional promise of criminal defense counsel for those who cannot afford it."

"Today's agreement is a victory for equal justice more than 50 years in the making," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "For the first time, New York State is acknowledging its constitutional responsibility to provide lawyers to poor defendants who have been forced to navigate the criminal justice system undefended and alone."

"Poor people will no longer have to stand before a court without a lawyer while critical decision are made affecting their lives and liberty," said S,R&Z litigation partner Gary Stein. "Public defenders will now be given the tools they so desperately need. This is an enormous victory not just for our tens of thousands of clients, but for all who care about fair and evenhanded criminal justice."

See: Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York, Supreme Court of N.Y., Albany Co., No. 8866-07. Additional source:

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Related legal case

Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York