2019-01-09 / Front Page

2019 Goal For DelCo BOS: Establishment Of Public Defender’s Office

By Rosie Cunningham

DELAWARE COUNTY - During the Delaware County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 2, re-elected chairperson Tina Molé said one of the most pressing goals for the county in the coming year is the establishment of a public defender’s office.

“With state mandates, our county spends $1 million each year on indigent defense,” she said. “That is ridiculous.”

In actuality, it costs Delaware County well over $2 million a year to assign counsel in the criminal and family court system. The cost is a state mandate to ensure that individuals receive defense, which is determined a civil right.

In a past interview, Delaware County District Attorney John Hubbard said Delaware County has an “18B” Program, which assigns counsel to those who need it in both the family court system and the criminal court system.

On Jan. 3, Masonville Supervisor Mike Spaccaforno said the mandates are creating financial difficulties for counties throughout the state and the court system needs to be addressed.

“With all of the last that New York State has been passing (raise the age, no cash bail and every criminal arraignment mus have legal representation at the time of the arraignment), it leaves us no choice but to start a public defenders office. With the salary cap lowered by the state, now, 95 percent of Delaware County qualifies for a public defender status. The state will give the count a portion of the start up funds, but the county will get stuck with the rest and it will be our financial responsibility infinitely.”

“The county is so big that if someone is arraigned in Hancock and the attorney is coming from Stamford, it could cost hours of counsel,” he said in a previous interview. “Not to mention that travel time.”

Spaccaforno said the county pays for law enforcement to catch criminals, jail maintenance and operation, food and medication, guards, the judge and the defense lawyers.

In 1966, the supreme court made the decision to assign counsel and, initially, the state paid for it. However, over time, the state paid for less and less until the cost was placed on the county’s shoulders.

Spaccaforno said something needs to be done as soon as possible because the situation will only get worse.

“We are guessing it will cost more than $1.2 million to get started,” said Spaccaforno. “We really don’t know if that amount of funding will be enough to cover the personnel needed to sustain the workload. In my mind, that’s an unfunded mandate, and so are all of the items that I mentioned above, which is forcing this issue and many others in the probation and the sheriff’s department.”

The attempt to put the costs of the assigned counsel on the state rather than the county was refused in a previous proposal.

The Assigned Counsel Program coordinates the assignment of attorneys to represent, at no cost to the client, individuals who are charged with a crime or a violation that could result in incarceration and who cannot afford to retain an attorney.

The program handles all matters, both misdemeanor and felony, in the Delaware County Court system as well as most of the felony work in Supreme Court.

Representation is also provided at final parole revocation hearings, on parole appeals, on criminal appeals from local courts to county court, and on appeals to the Appellate Division in both criminal and family court matters that cannot be handled by the Legal Aid Bureau because of a conflict.

In addition, the program coordinates the assignment of lawyers for certain family court matters. These family court matters include representation of respondents in neglect, abuse, termination of parental rights, paternity, and support order violation matters, as well as both petitioners and respondents in family offense, custody and visitation matters. They do not include divorces, modification of child support orders, or representation of paternity petitioners.

Currently, out of 62 counties in New York only 23 have full time public defenders’ offices, while 38 implement either assigned counsel or some mix between a part time defender and assigned counsel.

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