Davis Polk and Wardwell LLP's Pro Bono Commitment Significantly Impacts the Expansion of Indigent Criminal Defense Counsel
Friday, July 23, 2010
- Legal Aid Society
*Pictured in the photo, from left: former associate David Steinberg, Partner Daniel Kolb, and Associates Christopher Roche, Lara Samet, and Andrew Krause, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
Davis Polk has made an extraordinary commitment in providing a high-level legal team, headed by Society Board member Daniel Kolb, to assist The Legal Aid Society in conducting innovative data research and investigation for the implementation of the landmark New York State criminal defense case cap law. The legislation, enacted in April 2009 with a four-year implementation period beginning on April 1, 2010, addresses the excessive criminal defense client caseloads in the Society’s Criminal Practice. The firm’s work supported the Society’s presentations to the Chief Administrative Judge, Anne Pfau, prior to her promulgation of the groundbreaking criminal defense case cap rule for New York City this past March. The Chief Administrative Judge's rule adopts the First Department's standards that limit annual criminal defense attorney caseloads to 400 misdemeanors or 150 felonies, with felonies counted as 2.66 misdemeanors in mixed caseloads. Currently, some 83 percent of The Legal Aid Society’s front-line criminal defense attorneys has an annual weighted caseload of 718 cases, significantly in excess of the annual standards set by Chief Administrative Judge Pfau. Steven Banks, the Society’s Attorney-in-Chief, told The New York Law Journal that the case cap rule "represents a huge breakthrough" in the defense of low-income individuals charged with crimes, often wrongfully.
Davis Polk also served as counsel for the Society which appeared as amicus curiae in recent successful litigation heard before the New York Court of Appeals regarding the Judiciary’s authority to address systemic violations of the right to counsel in criminal cases. The firm’s work with the Society will enhance criminal defense representation in New York City as well as throughout the country.
In corollary pro bono projects, Davis Polk has dedicated a full-time six-month extern to volunteer with the New York County Criminal Defense trial office. The firm, which has a long and successful history as appellate pro bono counsel with the Society’s Criminal Appeals Bureau has undertaken a large number of appeals and as a partner in The Legal Aid Society’s Rockefeller Re-Sentencing Project is representing 20 individuals convicted of narcotics offenses. This collaborative pro bono project provides trained, competent counsel to assist inmates in applying for reductions in sentences following long-awaited changes to the draconian Rockefeller Drug laws.