A.6013 (Magnarelli) / S.3527 (Bailey)
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) joins the New York State Bar Association in its support of Bill A.6013/S.3527, which would amend County Law § 722-b to increase the hourly rate of assigned counsel in New York state courts. These attorneys are in private practice and represent indigent clients from marginalized communities in Criminal Courts, Family Court, Surrogate Court, Supreme Court, and the four Departments of the Appellate Division.
Assigned counsel attorneys are on the front lines representing criminal clients. They also represent children and adults in multi-faceted cases where families are in turmoil. Whether the case involves state interference or is a private dispute, families are often facing the loss of liberty or involuntary separation, and require judicial assistance to protect adult and/or child family members. Assigned counsel also represent the same clients in the appeals of these trial court cases.
WBASNY recognizes the significance and importance of this legislation since a greater proportion of assigned counsel are women and underrepresented communities than are generally present in the legal profession. In fact, many WBASNY members throughout the state do this essential legal work. Assigned counsel are also more likely to live in the communities they represent, giving them a unique advantage to effectively advocate for their clients.
Unfortunately, assigned counsel have not received a raise in 17 years, and have only received two raises in the past 34 years. This Bill would increase the hourly rate from $60 per hour to $120 per hour for misdemeanors, and from $75 per hour to $150 per hour for all other cases identified in this statute. As indicated, this raise is long overdue and serves to bring the hourly rate closer to the rate received by assigned counsel in Federal Court. For comparison, the Federal Public Defender hourly rate is currently at $155 per hour in non-capital cases; the Federal rate has been adjusted 13 times since the state rate was last increased in 2004.
Currently, there is a crisis in our court system as there has been a mass exodus of attorneys willing to do this work. Few new attorneys — faced with significant law school loans — can financially afford to accept the assignment of these cases. This situation is especially dire with respect to attorneys representing children. Recruitment is also extremely difficult in rural communities located in upstate New York.
The COVID pandemic has made passage of this legislation even more imperative. More individuals meet the financial requirements to qualify for this representation and there is a backlog of cases in the court system. Due to the problems of recruitment, assigned counsel attorneys have extremely large caseloads. Increasing the hourly rate will make it more desirable for attorneys in private practice to do this necessary work and will allow counsel to provide more attention to each of their clients.
WBASNY urges lawmakers to pass A.6013/S.3527 to provide a long overdue fair and just wage to attorneys representing women, children, and families in New York State. This Bill coincides with WBASNY’s goals, including dedication to advocating for the protection of women’s and children’s rights and advancing the status of women in the legal profession and society. WBASNY’s nearly 4,300 members include attorneys, judges, and law students working in all substantive areas of law at the local, state, federal, and international levels. With 20 chapters throughout New York State, WBASNY speaks as one voice to advocate for equal access to justice and gender equality.