St. Lawrence County Attorney attends conference in Albany, hopes to convince governor to sign indigent defense funding bill
CANTON – County Attorney Stephen Button traveled to Albany recently to raise awareness and urge the governor to sign a bill to increase funding for indigent defense.
In June, the senate and assembly unanimously passed legislation that would reduce disparities in our criminal justice system and eliminate an expensive unfunded mandate on counties.In 2014, a lawsuit alleging that New York State has been derelict in its responsibilities for funding indigent defense appropriately resulted in a settlement between the plaintiffs, the State of New York and the five named counties (Schuyler, Washington, Ontario, Onondaga and Suffolk).
Terms of the settlement outlined an increase in funding from the state for the five counties, but stagnant growth for the remaining 57 counties.
This indigent defense bill would expand that precedent to all New York counties over a seven-year period with incremental increases. The bill would require the state to cover expenses for indigent defense beginning in 2017. The funding would be gradually phased in to 100 percent by 2023.
The bill will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the coming weeks and he will then have ten days to sign the bill into law.
"St. Lawrence County is pleased to be counted as one of the major proponents of the Fahy/DeFracisco Justice Equality Act of 2016. The unanimous support of the State Legislature, the continuing support from the New York State Association of Counties, Albany County, the New York and American Bar Associations, the Catholic Conference of Bishops, the NYCLU, the New York State Conservative Party and St. Lawrence County Conservative party as well as countless others should make it clear to the governor that this is an issue that crosses party political and social lines,” Button said during his Albany visit.
“The governor has an opportunity to take the lead on supporting constitutional rights while alleviating the fiscal burdens imposed on local governments. There is no greater opportunity left in 2016 for the governor to announce to the citizens of New York that he will listen to their call for action and support their desired change. Good government requires that our elected officials heed the call of those whom have empowered them through election,” he said.
“I’ve crisscrossed the state talking about this legislation,” Button said. “I know from my own experience that without this bill, defenders just can’t provide their clients with the best defense possible. Governor Cuomo should sign this bill and ensure all New Yorkers get a fair trial with an adequate defense.”
The bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Pat Fahy and Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, which originated from a draft proposal by County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, would ensure everyone has access to an attorney from their first court appearance to their last and provide mandate relief for counties.
It also has support from hundreds of organizations, elected officials and editorial boards across the state, including the New York State Association of Counties, the state and national Bar Associations, NYC Council Black & Latino Caucus, and the NYS Council of Veterans Organizations.