Public Defenders

New York City Public Defenders’ Caseloads to Be Capped

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A provision in New York’s $131 billion state budget bill passed last week calls for a cap on the number of criminal cases each New York City court-appointed lawyer can handle.

Supporters of the provision hope that this guideline will eventually be expanded statewide, the New York Times reports.

The Legal Aid Society in New York City represents most of the city’s indigent defendants, according to the Times. The society’s attorney-in-chief, Steven Banks, told the Times that each of its criminal defense lawyers handles an average of 592 cases per year, or 103 at once. Banks said Manhattan’s Appellate Division adopted caseload guidelines that would amount to public defenders handling 70 cases at once.

The law stipulates that New York’s chief administrative judge would have to set new caseload standards by April 1, 2010. At that point the judiciary would have four years to phase in the limits and ensure adequate funding.

John Feinblatt, criminal justice coordinator for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told the Times that while to limit caseloads is an important step, investing in technology that could help such lawyers work more efficiently would make an even bigger difference.

In at least seven states—Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri and Tennessee—government-appointed lawyers have taken action against their large caseloads.

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