New York State Capitol in Albany (Matt H. Wade/Wiki)
As a long time litigator, I recall the milestone U.S. Supreme Court right to counsel decision in Gideon v. Wainwrght decided in 1963, the year I graduated from law school. On its 50th anniversary in 2013, many observers decried that the promise of Gideon—the furnishing of effective legal counsel to the indigent among us—was yet unfulfilled in many parts of this country. New York was no exception. In response to a lawsuit against five upstate counties with notable failure to comply with the constitutionally mandated right to counsel, the case was settled with the state agreed to provide necessary funding.
Last year, in a rare moment of statesmanship, the legislature unanimously passed a bill for the state to take over funding in the 52 other counties of all criminal defense furnished indigent defendants. Thus the hundreds of millions paid by New York City and the 80 million paid by other offices statewide would an absorbed in a uniform program. Plainly this measure would enable New York to comply with the U.S. Constitution after a 50+ year lapse.
We now find from the front page of New York Law Journal (NYLJ, Jan. 4) that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, decrying the cost, has vetoed the bill. The remedies discussed to restore the benefits of the bill include another lawsuit by the civil liberties groups that initiated the other action and negotiation with the governor at the bargaining table. What’s not mentioned is an override of his veto. This would take a 2/3 vote of both houses. If the bill passed unanimously, this seems a no-brainer.
The writer is of counsel at Ginarte O’Dwyer
Gonzales Gallardo & Winograd