The criminal defense lawyers group and the Innocence Project were among several organizations that filed or joined amici curiae briefs .
The head of the New York District Attorneys Association, Warren County District Attorney Kathleen Hogan, did not immediately return a call for comment. Her group opposed the suit in an amicus brief.
NYCLU attorney Corey Stoughton, who argued before the Court of Appeals, was unavailable for comment. Pro bono lawyers at Schulte Roth & Zabel led by Gary Stein aided in the representation of the plaintiffs.
New York's solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, appeared for the state. The state attorney general's office referred calls for comment to Gov. David A. Paterson's office.
In a statement, the governor's office said Paterson has submitted legislation to change the manner in which indigent legal services are funded and to improve the quality of those services.
STATEWIDE SYSTEM DISCUSSED
New York state in 1965 designated New York City and the other 57 counties as being responsible for providing indigent legal services to criminal defendants in compliance with the 1963 Gideon mandate.
A task force appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye highlighted in 2006 the uneven availability and quality of representation for indigent criminal defendants in New York.
Even Judge Pigott's dissent Thursday pointed to the "inadequacies" of the criminal legal services system.
"Legal services for the indigent have routinely been underfunded, and appointed counsel are all too often overworked and confronted with excessive caseloads, which affects the amount of time counsel may spend with any given client," Pigott wrote. "Many, if not all, of plaintiffs' grievances have been acknowledged in the Kaye Commission Report, which is implicitly addressed -- as it should be -- to the Legislature, the proper forum for weighing proposals to enhance indigent defense services in New York."
Counties provide about $260 million annually for indigent defense services and the state typically contributes between $60 million and $70 million more per year.
Attorneys arguing against the current system before the court in March conceded they did not know how much a properly funded statewide system would cost (NYLJ, March 24).
Paterson has proposed in the 2010-11 state budget the creation of an Office of Public Defense Services within the Secretary of State's office to begin the process of better funding criminal legal representation for the poor and of setting rules for the services counties must provide.
The governor's proposal would provide up to $17 million to begin standardizing legal services for criminal defendants. Majority Democrats in the Assembly and Senate also have supported a statewide approach to legal representation, though the details of their plans differ from the governor's.
Jonathan E. Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders, said Thursday's ruling should be seen as the "handwriting on the wall," putting Albany policy makers on notice that they must do a better job providing representation to the poor.
"This is a great step forward," Gradess said. "It may take the lawsuit to ultimately do the right thing, but I have a feeling that the state, if it's working in the best interests of the people, solves the problem."