Attorneys plan statewide court protest after Hochul short-changes them

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POUGHKEEPSIE – Attorneys throughout the state have organized a three-day protest after Governor Hochul removed modest rate increases for attorneys that participate in the “assigned counsel” program for people who cannot afford an attorney.  The attorneys will not be accepting new clients from any courts on April 18th, 19th, and 20th.

Governor Hochul removed the raises for 18-b attorneys from the state budget. The Senate and the Assembly had approved raising the rates in criminal cases from $75 an hour to $150 an hour for people charged with felonies and $120.00 an hour for misdemeanor cases. The family court rate was slated to go from $75 an hour to $150 an hour.  The current rate structure has been in place for more than a decade without any increases.

Attorneys that are approved to serve on the 18-b Panel represent people in the criminal and family court systems.  The state mandates that the attorneys maintain insurance and have office space to meet with the clients.  The attorneys are also responsible for all office supply expenses associated with the assigned cases.

Because of Hochul’s refusal to increase the rates,  the Assigned Counsel Association of New York has requested all 18-b and family court attorneys for children (AFC) to refrain from accepting any new assignments on April 18th, 19th, and 20.

The judiciary throughout the State has been made aware of this planned protest.  In Dutchess County, all four family court judges met with Dutchess County Assigned Counsel Program Administrator, Tom O’Neill, Esq.  According to O’Neill, a former City of Poughkeepsie judge, the family court judges are supporting their 18-b attorneys in the upcoming protest.

O’Neill told Mid-Hudson News that “The men and women who serve on Dutchess County’s Assigned Counsel Panels provide a tremendous service to this community. The Governor’s last-minute action of striking this raise, which had already been approved by the Assembly and the Senate, was nothing short of deplorable”

Poughkeepsie-based attorney Kelley Enderley serves as an 18-b attorney, in addition to her private practice. “Assigned counsel is the backbone of the criminal and family court systems,” she said, adding, “The governor’s refusal to include the pay increase for assigned counsel is nothing more than a slap in the face to not only the attorneys in New York State but to indigent litigants who are fighting for their families and their lives.”

O’Neill stressed that the protest only concerns new appointments for those three days. He reminded the 18-b attorneys in Dutchess County that they are fully expected and required to make all other court appearances and attend to the needs of their clients.

The protest is not expected to place a substantial burden on courts outside of New York City but legal scholars expect the action to have a major impact on the court calendar in the city.

The 18-b attorneys who are in court during the protest period are being asked to refuse a new assignment and state on the record, in court, the reason for refusing the new case.  Several attorneys have indicated that this is just one of several state-wide protests that will be held in the next few months.

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