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Letter: NYCLU Clarifies Position on ‘Hurrell-Harring’ (New York Law Journal)

To the Editor:

The Law Journal’s article about the Court of Appeals’ consideration of the public defense reform case Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York incorrectly reported that the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs along with the law firm Schulte, Roth & Zabel, would “drop its lawsuit if a statewide independent commission were formed,” (“Cost of Changes to State’s Defense of Indigents Raises Concerns,” March 24).

That is not NYCLU’s position. What I said, in response to a question about pending legislative initiatives, is that should the state take steps to remedy the causes of the violations of indigent defendants’ right to counsel—and in particular the violations of the rights of the class of indigent defendants in the five counties that are the focus of the lawsuit—the plaintiffs would happily drop their legal claims.

Those causes include, among other things, excessive caseloads, a lack of resources and the absence of necessary training and enforceable performance standards for public defense attorneys. An independent statewide commission might be a first step toward remedying these problems, but without more it is not a complete cure for the constitutional defects in New York’s public defense system.

Corey Stoughton
Senior Staff Attorney, New York Civil Liberties and lead counsel in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York

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