By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY, NY - The state's court system on Wednesday announced $12 million in aid to help upstate courts deal with a backlog of cases.
A pilot program, first announced in 2011, that provides counsel at arraignment has already been started in Chautauqua, Erie, Westchester, Tompkins, Ontario, Albany and Onondaga counties, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in a speech on "Law Day."
"The goal I stated at that time was to make representation at arraignment the norm in New York as it is in many parts of the country," Lippman said.
Lippman said grant funding, part of the current state budget, would help as many as 25 counties find ways to reform their arraignment system and ensure delivery of indigent defense services to defendants at arraignments.
In 2009, the court system put a cap on the caseloads for defense attorneys in New York City. Lippman said the court's Indigent Legal Services Office has made funding available to hire over 50 additional attorneys outside the city and distributed $1.3 million in additional aid for support staff.
"This goes to the very heart of our constitutional mission - to foster equal justice for all New Yorkers, regardless of means," Lippman said. "The lack of effective legal assistance can unbalance the scales of justice and devastate the lives of real human beings and their families."