Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told an audience at Yale Law School on March 2 that he is working with the Legislature to establish caseload caps outside of New York City. Judge Lippman said the caseload caps being implemented in New York City represent a “major step” toward “ensuring a level playing field.” Under legislation enacted in 2009, public defender caseloads in New York City will be limited to 400 misdemeanors or 150 felonies per attorney, per year. The cap is being phased in and must be in place entirely by April 1, 2014. But there are no caps outside of New York City. “We recognize caseload limits as a significant step toward improving the quality of representation for low-income criminal defendants,” Judge Lippman told his New Haven, Conn., audience.

The Office of Indigent Legal Services is seeking additional funding in the fiscal year beginning April 1 to help upstate and Long Island counties beef up their criminal defense programs and lower caseloads, which, in the larger upstate counties, are higher than in New York City (NYLJ, Feb. 16). Also, Judge Lippman said the Judiciary budget under consideration by the Legislature includes $17 million for caseload relief, “leaving no doubt whatsoever about our own absolute commitment to ensuring appropriate and reasonable caseloads for public defenders.” Some lawmakers have articulated support for upstate caseload caps, but generally only if it can be accomplished without imposing an unfunded mandate on the counties.