New York County Bar Associations Appeal Indigent Defense Decision


NEW YORK -- Heartened by the legal conclusions of two dissenting justices from the First Department, the five county bars of New York City have decided to appeal to the Court of Appeals last week’s First Department decision, which would permit the city to unilaterally impose a new indigent defense system in violation of Article 18-B, Section 722 of the county law. 


The county bars, represented by Jonathan D. Pressment and David M. Siegal of Haynes and Boone, filed a petition with the New York State Supreme Court last June asserting that the city’s proposed changes to the indigent defense system violated state law.


In January, the Supreme Court granted the county bars limited relief and dismissed the remainder of the county bar claims – including a claim that state law prohibited the city from imposing an indigent defense plan, purporting to utilize an alleged “bar plan” component, over the objections of the county bars.


The county bars appealed, and in a March 15 decision the First Department upheld the Supreme Court’s decision by a 3-2 vote.


In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam stated that the majority’s decision “defies logic” and that she (along with Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli) would have granted the county bars’ petition.  Pursuant to New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules, the two-judge dissent enables the County Bars to appeal the decision to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, “as of right.”


Said Pressment and Siegal in a statement: “The county bars' statutory role in helping to fashion and administer New York City's indigent defense system pursuant to Section 722 - a role dutifully served by the County Bars for nearly half a century to ensure that the rights of New York's indigent defendants are protected - is simply too important to permit the city to proceed with its plans to impose a new indigent defense system in violation of state law. 


“We look forward to demonstrating the merits of our position before the Court of Appeals.”

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