In late 1972, several actions were consolidated into this litigation. One case involved a lawsuit by a class of plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Another case involved a class action that had not been certified, also under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. One case was brought by public interest lawyers, while the other was brought by pro se prisoners. The prisoner plaintiffs were all awaiting trial, indictment, or sentence in the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men (BHD). The cases were all brought in the United States Court for the Eastern District of New York. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, claiming that their Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that their indigent defense counsel, the Legal Aid Society, had failed to provide effective representation because of their overburdened caseloads, and as a result, they were confined awaiting disposition of their criminal actions in violation of their speedy trial rights.
Over the course of 1969 until 1972, the number of indictments and charges issued in Kings County increased precipitously, from 5,027 to 11,064. The same increase was not seen in funding for indigent defense. Additionally, the throughput (resolved cases in each fiscal year as a percentage of new cases) fell during the same period to 47.6%, meaning the entire caseload was doubling for the indigent defense service provider, the Legal Aid Society (LAS) every year.
While guidelines promulgated by the ABA suggest that no attorney have more than 40 cases at a given time, the norm at LAS of Brooklyn was more than 90. Additionally, LAS' structure was to appoint a different attorney at each stage of the prosecution, called horizontal representation. A defendant would have a different attorney at arraignment, pretrial, evidentiary hearings, and trial. The plaintiffs alleged that this led to a breakdown in the quality of representation because mistakes by one attorney at one stage would cascade across the entirety of their case.
Several of the plaintiffs were in BHD for 12-14 months prior to trial, and the plaintiffs alleged that they faced undue pressure from defense counsel to plead to crimes that carried draconian sentences, in an effort to hurriedly resolve their cases. Thus, several plaintiffs filed this lawsuit asking to be released from BHD, that the Legal Aid Society be enjoined from taking on cases that exceeded ABA guidelines, and that the trial court be empowered to schedule their cases, to ensure their speedy trial rights were protected.
On May 10, 1973, the Court (Judge Orrin Grimmell Judd) issued a preliminary injunction in a published opinion (392 F.Supp. 834) against Legal Aid, requiring them to not accept additional cases that exceeded their capacity. Further, the Court urged Kings County to improve the compensation system for the 18-B overflow attorneys, who were to see an increase in caseload as a result of the injunction.
The defendants appealed, and on June 27, 1973, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the District Court in another published opinion (481 F.2d 621), finding that (1) the district court did not have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to issue an injunction against the Legal Aid Society because Legal Aid was not acting under color of state law; (2) abstention demanded that the District Court not issue injunctions to run against state courts. The case was remanded.
On remand, the District Court (Judge Judd) issued a second preliminary injunction in another published opinion (371 F.Supp. 1384) on March 7, 1984. The Court found that while the state trial courts had been voluntarily complying with the District Courts' suggestion, the result had been unconstitutionally long pretrial detention of criminal defendants. The Court's preliminary injunction required that any defendant who had been confined for more than six months be brought to trial within 45 days of submitting a written request (9 months in murder cases). The defendants appealed again.
On July 8, 1974, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court for a second time in another published opinion (499 F.2d 1345). This time, the Court of Appeals found that the District Court had disregarded Supreme Court precedent in Barker v. Wingo, which would strongly counsel in favor of denying a preliminary injunction.
The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari. We have no further information about this case.Blase Kearney - 07/17/2012