Justice, safety to cost more
MONTICELLO, NY — In New York State, counties mostly bear the burden of paying to defend indigent defendants who are charged with a crime but can’t afford an attorney. But the state legislature, in reaction to the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), in April passed legislation that will improve the defense provided by public defenders offices. That will nearly double the amount of cost to defend indigent defendants in Sullivan County.
Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek told lawmakers at the government center on June 7 that the county now spends about $1.7 million on such defendants, while the reforms are expected to add another $1.6 million to the cost.
Potosek said there were three main areas that will be improved. There will be reduced caseloads for the public defenders; there will be an improvement in the quality of the representation for defendants; and there will be a public defender at every initial indigent arraignment, which is not the case today.
In theory the state is supposed to pick up the additional cost for the counties, but the improvements might also mean an increase in expenditures for the district attorney’s office. If public defender offices are going to have a representative at every indigent arraignment, district attorneys across the state will likely want to have a lawyer at them as well.
Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell said he saw the development as an unfunded mandate.
NYCLU brought the lawsuit against five counties, and Sullivan was not one of them. The reforms, however, are being introduced statewide.
Sheriff Mike Schiff told lawmakers that they might have to soon consider increased spending in his office. He said, “There are times when we’re going to need two dispatchers. Looking at the numbers climbing with the casino online, I think once the water park and the wellness center and several other projects are complete, I see our numbers creeping up. We’re probably going to have to have discussion about dispatch, we’re probably going to have discussions about manpower.”
He also said the issue of school safety is likely to increase costs in the near future. He said that, along with interest from Sullivan West, “We have three other schools that tentatively want a second school resource officer (SRO). I think as things move on that number is going to jump dramatically.”
He added, “Thirty years ago, you wouldn’t have dreamed of having a police officer in a school, and we’ve been slowly acclimating to this, but I think we have to take a radical jump. I think the barometer has to be—if somebody walked into one of these schools and shot the place up, and killed 15, 20 people, would you be satisfied with what you had done, or would you want to go back in a time machine and fix it? If you want to fix it, let’s fix it now.”
When the county approved three SROs in 2014, the schools picked up 70% of the cost.