Gov. proposes $50 million to offset indigent defense; St. Lawrence County's share remains unclear
Friday, February 9, 2018 - 11:42 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON – St. Lawrence County officials are pleased that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed $50 million in state funding to offset costs related to indigent defense, but it’s unclear how much will be allocated locally at this time.

Counties across the state will receive funding to offset costs associated with indigent defense under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal. When fully implemented in 2023, the state plans to increase funding to counties and New York City by approximately $250 million annually.

St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button was among those leading the charge for the funding. He said he was please to see the funding included in the budget.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see this included as the state is facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit,” he said. Button said the funding will be a “game changer” in providing local property tax relief to counties throughout the state.

The cost for indigent defense in St. Lawrence County is estimated at more than $2 million annually.

The proposal would make good on a promise made by the governor following a call for action led by St. Lawrence County for the state to pay for indigent defense costs as mandated in under the law.

The proposal includes a $50 million allotment, which will be split amongst New York counties.

Under the proposal, the state will gradually increase its investment public defense services according to a plan developed by the Office of Indigent Legal Services.

The plan will ensure defendants have counsel at arraignment, establish new caseload standards so that attorneys can devote sufficient time and attention to each case, and ensure that attorneys receive effective training and have the necessary qualifications and experience, according to a state assembly press release.

The cost of indigent defense has always been the state’s responsibility, but the costs had been pushed onto counties long ago.

In 2014, the state successfully negotiated an agreement in Hurrell-Harring lawsuit filed against the state and five counties based upon an alleged failure to provide the necessary level of indigent defense services in those counties. With that settlement in place, St. Lawrence and other counties fought to convince the state to take back the responsibility for indigent defense.

It is unclear at this time if the funding will make it though the Assembly and Senate budgets, but the proposal had broad bi-partisan support when a deal was hammered out last year.