Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: March 26, 2001

Seal of the Unified Court System
www.nycourts.gov
Appellate Division First Department Committee on the Representation of the Poor Calls for Restructuring of the Ways Governmentally Funded Legal Representation is Provided to the Poor in New York
New York - Presiding Justice Joseph P. Sullivan of the Appellate Division First Department today released the Report filed by the Court's Committee on the Representation of the Poor in the First Judicial Department. Established pursuant to a June 1999 order to examine the quality of governmentally funded legal representation of the poor, the Committee based its Report upon an exhaustive 16-month investigation of the legal representation provided to criminal defendants and litigants in Family Court proceedings. In its Report to the Court the Committee unanimously concludes that New York's system for providing counsel to the poor is "outmoded, underfunded, overburdened and organizationally chaotic" and deprives New York's poor of the "meaningful and effective" representation they are guaranteed under New York law and the New York State Constitution. The Committee calls upon the New York State Legislature, the City of New York and the Unified Court System to restructure the system by which the poor are provided with counsel. While joining the numerous voices that have called for an increase in the statutory $25 and $40 an hour rates paid to the individual lawyers who accept assignments to cases through the Assigned Counsel Plan, the Committee believes that other steps are necessary.

Among the Committee's recommendations for restructuring are: 

  • establish one or more institutional providers to represent parents and other adults in Family Court proceedings; 
  • create resource centers for assigned counsel plan lawyers to provide support services, such as legal research capability, case management assistance, and investigative and social service assistance, equal to the support and assistance available to their adversaries and to the lawyers working for institutional providers; 
  • reallocate funding for legal representation services among the state and local governments to clarify the lines of government responsibility, reaffirm government's control over the disposition of funds and achieve cost efficiencies; 
  •   introduce mechanisms that will facilitate greater coordination among the various agencies that are necessary participants in criminal and Family Court proceedings; 
  • expand the Plan authorized by County Law Article 18-b to include the representation of poor persons in all types of court proceedings in which governmentally funded lawyers are required to be provided; 
  •  include as a compensated service legal representation that is collateral to the proceeding for which counsel is required to be assigned, such as post-dispositional planning for parents in Family Court matters; 
  • take the necessary steps to accord assigned counsel and lawyers employed by institutional providers the same respect and courtesy as privately retained lawyers receive; and, 
  • establish an independent permanent oversight commission to review and report periodically on the quality of legal representation being provided to poor persons.
With respect to the Assigned Counsel Plan, the Committee found that during the 5 year period 1995-1999, assignments in criminal proceedings to Assigned Counsel Plan lawyers in New York and Bronx Counties increased from 62,800 to 177,000. During the same period, the number of lawyers who participated in the Plan significantly declined; only approximately 400 lawyers accepted more than 10 assignments during the year 2000. Similar figures exist for assignments in Family Court matters where the high volume of cases and routine short supply of lawyers negatively impacts the quality of representation and often leads to severe adverse consequences for the parties in proceedings involving child custody and visitation, child abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, and domestic violence.

Commenting on the Report, Presiding Justice Sullivan said, "It has been more than 35 years since the current Plan for providing legal counsel to the poor has been examined. During that time pressures from the expansion of the right to counsel, increasing caseloads and declining numbers of lawyers available to handle the cases have converged to the detriment of the legal process itself. The Court is indebted to the Committee and especially its Chairman, Klaus Eppler, Esq., for undertaking this inquiry and for identifying the actions to be taken to improve the quality of representation in the First Department."

Mr. Eppler observed, "The lack of resources and support for lawyers providing governmentally funded legal services to the poor has devastating impact on large numbers of children and poor adults - on the thousands of children kept too long in foster care, on many victims of domestic violence, on poor parents who are facing termination of parental rights, as well as on others including those accused of crimes. There is truly a crisis in the representation of the poor."

In addition to Mr. Eppler, the members of the Committee are: Bruce Hubbard, Esq. John J. Kenney, Esq., Robert J. McGuire, Esq., Joseph J. Milano, Esq., Eve S. Plotkin, Esq., Jose Rodriguez, Esq., Fern Schair, Esq., Peter L. Zimroth, Esq. The Report is available at the Appellate Division, First Department Clerk's Office, 27 Madison Avenue, N.Y., N.Y., or through the Office of Court Administration Communications Office, 212-428-2500.