Ontario County has agreed to introduce new measures to provide legal representation for indigent defendants in a settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, according to a press release from NYCLU.

The NYCLU, along with Schulte Roth & Zabel, had filed suit in 2007 against Ontario and four other upstate counties on behalf of 20 defendants who allegedly did not receive adequate legal defense. In addition to Ontario, the suit targeted Onondaga, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties.

Albany Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine (See Profile) ruled in December that the case can go to trial (NYLJ, Dec. 18, 2013).

Under the settlement, Ontario agreed to: maintain its recently created public defender’s office and ensure that defenders’ salaries are comparable to salaries of prosecutors; enforce case load limits for attorneys; and establish minimum practice standards for attorneys, among other reforms.

Before the lawsuit, Ontario’s only way of providing representation for indigent defendants was through contracts with private attorneys on a case-by-case basis. It has since created a public defender’s office.

“For more than half a century, New York State has abdicated its responsibility to provide counsel to people too poor to afford an attorney, making justice in much of our state a luxury for the rich. We applaud Ontario County for taking steps to provide public defense services to its most vulnerable residents in the face of the state’s inaction,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in the press release.

The case is Hurrell-Haring v. State of New York, 8866-07.