NYCLU Supporters in Albany to Demand Justice for All

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
May 5, 2015 11:45 am

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NEW YORK – New York Civil Liberties Union supporters from across the state are in Albany today to call on lawmakers to fix the state’s broken public defense system during the first annual NYCLU Lobby Day, the largest ever gathering of NYCLU members and supporters. Kicking off with a rally and press conference in West Capitol Park on the Swan Street steps, advocates were joined by legislators voicing their firm commitment to the statewide reform of public defense.

“For 50 years New York neglected to provide people the right to an attorney and stood by as innocent people lost their families, homes and jobs to our broken public defense system,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “But right now – with the support of our lawmakers – we have a historic opportunity to transform New York into a model for the rest of the country in establishing equal justice for all.”

Advocates from across the state will ask legislators to sign a pledge supporting a state-funded public defense system. For the past 50 years, New York has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to provide public defense to its 62 counties, creating a patchwork of largely dysfunctional, underfunded programs. Public defense attorneys carry as much as five times the maximum number of cases and poor people are forced to fend for themselves in court, resulting in excessively high bails and long incarceration times for little more than misdemeanors or petty crimes.

Last October, the NYCLU reached an unprecedented settlement with New York State in the lawsuit Hurell-Harring v. New York, where the state agreed to adopt major reforms to public defense in five counties –Onondaga (Syracuse), Suffolk, Ontario, Schuyler and Washington. Since the settlement, momentum has been building for reforms to apply to all counties across the state, where public defense conditions are often just as shocking if not worse.

“The state’s settlement agreement in Hurrell-Harring is a template by which New York can establish equal justice for all, not just justice for the wealthy,” said NYCU Senior Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton, lead counsel on the Hurrell-Harring case. “It’s time New York accepted that adopting a state-funded system is the only way to prevent the miscarriages of justice taking place in courtrooms across the state every day.”

Today, hundreds of advocates arrived on buses from across the state to lobby for public defense. At a rally to kick off the day, state legislators including Joe Lentol, Jeff Aubrey, Andrea Stewart Cousins, Charles Lavine and Patricia Fahy joined them to show support of public defense reform. Advocates are also:

· Attending meetings with legislators from across the state urging them to sign a pledge committing themselves to statewide public defense reform;

· Joining a social media campaign #justice4allNY; and

· Bringing back to Albany the NYCLU’s #WheelofJusticeNY – a brightly-colored, 7-foot-tall Wheel of Fortune-style game that traveled across the state last summer to raise awareness about the broken public defense system.

“As Chair of the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Codes, the equitable application of justice has always been a top priority of mine,” said Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol. “The work the New York Civil Liberties Union is doing takes direct aim at creating a level playing field for those accused of crimes. I commend them for their work to improve the public defense system.”

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