Gideon Alert: New York's Washington County

BY David Carroll on Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 7:02 PM

The New York Times today continued their spotlight series on the failing right to counsel in New York, focusing on the story of client Kimberly Hurrell-Harring -- the named plaintiff in the NYCLU's class action lawsuit -- and her now disbarred public defender Patrick Barber.  This is the type of client story that normally needs no further context.  However, Ms. Hurrell-Harring was prosecuted in Washington County, a jurisdiction that NLADA studied in 2007 on behalf of the New York State Defender's Association.

Here are just a few of the systemic deficiencies operating behind the story:

  • Washington County spent a total of $456,415 on public defense services in 2006, equalling $7.48 per capita.  This is 64.6% below the state average of $21.21 spent per capita.  By comparison, Franklin County, NY -- a jurisdiction found by NLADA to be in crisis -- spent $12.88 per capita on the right to counsel.
  • Washington County does not have any caseload or workload standards for the public defense system attorneys.  In 2006, the fourt part-time public defense attorneys provided representation to clients in 1,306 cases -- an average of 326.5 cases per attorney -- in addition to all of their private retained client cases, and noone knows how many of those each lawyer is handling.
  • The caseloads of the public defense attorneys are exacerbated by the need to provide counsel in some 25 Town and Village Courts dispersed geographically throughout the county.