NEW YORK—Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye today announced the formation of the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services, to examine the effectiveness of criminal defense services for the poor across the state and consider alternative methods of assigning, supervising and financing assigned counsel compatible with New York’s constitutional responsibilities and fiscal realities. The 31-member panel, with members from the bench and bar, law enforcement, criminal justice agencies and academia, is chaired by Hon. Burton B. Roberts, former Administrative Judge and District Attorney in the Bronx, and vice-chaired by Professor William E. Hellerstein of Brooklyn Law School.
In making the announcement, Chief Judge Kaye stated, “Our country’s judicial system has long recognized a defendant’s right to adequate, effective legal counsel, regardless of one’s ability to pay. The principle of equal justice under the law is bedrock to the functioning of a democratic society and behooves us to do everything possible to ensure that all citizens have access to quality representation. This new commission, under the leadership of Hon. Burton Roberts—a man who has spent his life dedicated to public service and the pursuit of justice—and the distinguished Professor Hellerstein of Brooklyn Law School, has as its mandate to perform a top-to-bottom examination of New York’s indigent defense system and develop a blueprint for reform. I am optimistic, with this talented panel devoting their time and expertise to this endeavor, that significant strides will soon be made in this critical area.”
Chief Administrative Judge Lippman noted, “During the last few decades, in New York we have seen dramatic changes in the type, complexity and volume of our criminal caseload. At the same time, we continue to face a critical shortage of lawyers to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases. While last year’s increases in assigned counsel rates have encouraged more lawyers to return to the assigned counsel panels, there is much more work to be done to meet the staggering indigent defense needs in this state. This commission will be entrusted with surveying the landscape of criminal defense services for the poor in New York and identifying practical solutions to address deficiencies, keeping in mind both budgetary realities and constitutional responsibilities. I thank the commission members for their willingness to contribute their energies and time to this important cause and look forward to their findings.”