U.S. News

New York suit demands proper legal care for poor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawsuit in New York state demands that indigent defendants be given competent legal representation, saying court-appointed lawyers are overwhelmed by huge caseloads and lack adequate resources.

Many poor people facing criminal charges appear in court without a lawyer, or have a series of different lawyers, or access to far fewer resources at trial than the prosecution, said the class-action lawsuit, filed in Albany on Thursday by the New York Civil Liberties Union and a private law firm.

The suit comes a month after the Innocence Project advocacy group found New York outpaced almost every other state in the number of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all defendants should have access to a lawyer, regardless of their ability to pay.

New York state provided its counties less than $62 million for public defense last year, the NYCLU said.

“Justice should not depend on ... the size of your wallet,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU.

A spokeswoman for the New York Office of Court Administration said the state could not comment on pending litigation.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney