The state of New York has settled an ACLU lawsuit over an inadequate system of public defenders in a multi-million-dollar agreement.
The settlement, announced Tuesday, arises from a lawsuit filed 7 1/2 years ago by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Last month, an NYCLU report linked to the lawsuit detailed how poor defendants across the state are often shuffled through the court system with little to no legal representation. This results in defendants waiting in jail for months before reaching a plea bargain or going to trial.
During that time, they can lose their homes, their jobs and, in some cases, are behind bars when family members die.
Tuesday’s settlement ensures that public defenders and their clients are in more regular communication both inside and outside the court. It also promotes the use of expert witnesses and investigators by public defenders.
In addition, the settlement increases the eligibility for public defense. Previously, some counties set minimum-income thresholds that were so drastically low that even a single mother in Washington County earning just over $10,000 a year, for example, was denied public legal counsel.
This news came the day I happened to mention discussions underway in Arkansas about the potential for a civil rights lawsuit in Arkansas over the inadequate public defender system and legislative discussion of a budget proposal for the Public Defenders Commission that, while providing a substantial increase in staff, still likely falls short of meeting needs.