Appointed attorneys get a pay raise downstate but not upstate

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Attorneys who represent the poor are now getting paid more to do it in the New York City area but Upstate lawyers continue to make the same hourly rate they have for the past 18 years.

New York State pays $75 per hour to attorneys who are appointed to a case when the public defender has a conflict, that’s about 1/3rd of what most charge private clients for the same work. The state has not increased the pay rate in the past 18 years.

As News10NBC has been reporting, attorneys across the state have been advocating, lobbying, and protesting for a pay raise and they thought they were going to get it in this year’s NYS budget but it was yanked at the last minute.

“There’s plenty of money for so many issues out there and every little special interest group and yet those who are providing this valuable and necessary service aren’t getting an increase in 18 years,” attorney Ed Leichtner has told News10NBC.

A group of New York City attorneys decided to sue the state to force it to at least match the federal rate for assigned counsel which is $158 per hour. Last week, a judge ruled in their favor saying the state’s pay rate is so low, it violates the constitutional rights of poor clients who depend on these attorneys.

That bumped the pay up for New York City attorneys but, “the lawsuit only dealt with New York City, I am hopeful and will advocate that we extend that rate statewide because the same problem we have in New York City, we have up here,” says Assembly Member Jen Lunsford who is an attorney herself.

Lunsford believes it is a criminal justice issue, “we don’t have enough attorneys to handle the cases and when you don’t have attorneys on cases that slow the process, it also slows down justice, it keeps people in holding patterns when there otherwise would be resolution both on the defendant’s side and on the plaintiff’s side,” she says.

She believes given the logic of the NYC lawsuit, the state should apply the pay raise statewide but technically it will take a legislative change to make that happen.