NYLJ: Bar Groups' Suit Is Based on Reading of 1965 Plan


New York City's plan to move most of the $45 million now received by private lawyers for representing the poor in criminal cases to institutional providers like the Legal Aid Society is both illegal and will "severely impede" the rights of defendants, bar associations from all of the city's boroughs charge in a lawsuit filed Wednesday (See Complaint).

The suit seeks to bar the city from proceeding with a request for bids, issued in February, from legal services groups to take over most of the 34,000 cases handled by private lawyers (NYLJ, Feb. 10).

At the core of the bar associations' challenge to the city's plan is the contention that County Law §722, which is part of Article 18-B, requires the approval of the bar groups before the representation plan can be changed. They say that they were not consulted.

That statute provides four methods by which the city may structure its plan for representing the poor. But whatever the method, according to the complaint, it is essential to have a corps of private lawyers who can handle conflict cases and to act as a "safety valve" when no other lawyer is available.

As long as the city has a bar association component to its plan, it cannot change that without the approval of the original signatories under CL §722(3), according to the complaint. Additionally, CL §722(3) must be approved by a "state administrator."

Article 18-B "by reserving oversight for the County Bars and courts," the petition states, "ensures that the City cannot unilaterally fashion an indigent defense system by fiat" and requires a role for the bar associations free of the "conflicting financial and other considerations of the city."

Christopher DiLorenzo, the president-elect of the Bronx Bar Association, said that institutional providers cannot provide "the top notch" litigation experience offered by 18-B attorneys. According to a recent study of 18-B lawyers in the Bronx, he said, they had on average about 19 years of experience and 83 percent had tried more than 75 felony jury trials.

Jonathan B. Behrins, the president of the Richmond County Bar Association, said 18-B lawyers offer a more personal service than institutional providers. But he acknowledged that protecting work for the group's members is also a lesser concern.

The New York office of Haynes and Boone is handling the bar groups' case pro bono. Two partners, David M. Siegal and Kendyl T. Hanks, and a counsel, Jonathan D. Pressment, are working on the case. Dallas-based Haynes and Boone has more than 550 lawyers, with more than 40 in New York.

This article has been excerpted from The New York Law Journal. To read the full article, click here. (Subscription required.)

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