On November 8, 2007, criminal defendants with cases pending in New York state courts filed a class action lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 in the Superior Court of the State of New York, challenging the constitutionality of the state's public defense system. Plaintiffs alleged that New York's persistent failure to guarantee meaningful and effective legal services to indigent defendants was a violation of the New York and United States constitutions. Plaintiffs sought relief as a class of people with criminal felony, misdemeanor, or lesser charges pending in New York state courts in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Suffolk, and Washington counties who had been denied meaningful and effective counsel. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent further violations of their legal rights and to remedy the state's failure to ensure meaningful and effective representation for indigent defendants.
The plaintiffs asserted violations of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and Article 1 Section 6 of the New York Constitution. Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys with the ACLU of New York.
On August 1, 2008 the Trial Court (Judge Eugene Devine) denied the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. The defendants appealed to the Third Appellate Division, which granted the defendant's Motion to Dismiss. The plaintiffs then appealed to the New York Court of Appeals.
In a published opinion (930 N.E.2d 217) issued May 6, 2010, the Court (Judge Jonathan Lippman) found for the plaintiffs, ruling that (1) the issue of whether the State of New York was meeting its constitutional obligation under Gideon v. Wainwright was ripe for review, the plaintiffs' preconviction status notwithstanding. The Court also found that (2) the issue of the state's compliance with the Gideon requirement to provide indigent people with lawyers was not an issue best left to the legislature, and could be considered and ordered by the Courts.
This opinion has legal significance because it is at odds with other interpretations of the justiciability of systemic 6th Amendment claims (most notably Duncan v. State (http://www.clearinghouse.net/detail.php?id=10659)), which have essentially held that these kinds of claims against an entire system of providing indigent defense are categorically non-justiciable. The case was remanded to the Trial Court.
On January 6, 2011, the Third Appellate Division certified the plaintiffs' class in an unpublished opinion, and remanded the case to the Trial Court for discovery. Since then, there have been a series of discovery disputes pertaining to compelled deposition, requests for admission, and document disclosure.
At the time of this writing (July 2, 2012), a motion to compel a defendant to disclose documents is pending in the trial court. This case is ongoing.Blase Kearney - 07/02/2012