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Relief At Last: Assigned Counsel, Law Guardian Fees to Increase

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

  • Organization: Volunteer Legal Services Project
New York State Legislature Acts to End Long-Standing Compensation Crisis That impacted Attorney Availability

The New York State Assembly and Senate have reached an agreement to increase rates for law guardians and 18B assigned counsel to $75 per hour, except in misdemeanor cases, where the rate is fixed at $60 per hour.

The new rates would go into effect in January 2004. To help the localities which are responsible for paying assigned counsel to cover the fee increases and assist the state which pays law guardians, the bill creates a $64 million dedicated funding stream - the Indigent Legal Services Fund.

Under the proposal:
- caps on compensation will be raised from $1,200 to $4,400;
- caps on misdemeanor cases will be raised from $800 to $2,400; and
- caps on experts and investigative services will be raised from $300
to $1,000.

The new fund would be generated by proceeds from a $35 fee on traffic scofflaws, an increase in the fee collected by the Office of Court Administration from criminal history searches, an increase in the attorney registration fee and vehicle and traffic surcharges. Localities would be entitled to a percentage of the approximately $40 million local assistance fund through a formula based on their prior year's expenditure on indigent representation.

Additionally, up to $25 million is designated to cover the increased law guardian costs to the state.

The reimbursement rate for assigned counsel and law guardians is currently set at $40 per hour for in-court work and $25 per hour for other work. Counties are responsible for assigned counsel costs and the state is responsible for the law guardian costs.

"This legislation addresses unfinished business for the legislature and the defense of citizens' constitutional rights," said Assemblymember Susan John. "Seventeen years have passed since the rates were last increased. These rates have remained static all of that time while the cost of living in our area has risen 70 percent. This legislation will increase the number of legal services offered in both the criminal cases and family court without an increase in cost to the taxpayer."
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