Press-Republican

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March 18, 2014

Counties eye regional approach to appeals

MALONE — To save money, Franklin County may align itself with St. Lawrence and Essex counties to hire an attorney for court appeals for poor people.

County Manager Thomas Leitz told legislators of a draft resolution he received, asking the county to sign a memorandum of understanding to create a regional appellate center.

The center would have an attorney to handle appeals for the public defenders’ offices in all three counties.

St. Lawrence County would take the lead to coordinate the effort, and the others would each select a liaison to provide updates and progress reports.

The cases are typically assigned through the Third Judicial Department of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.

Leitz said that about 100 county-court-level appeals were assigned that way among the three counties in the past three years, on top of dozens of other cases generated from municipal-court cases.

The draft states that in 2012 St. Lawrence County had 50 criminal cases and 18 Family Court appeals filed; Essex County, nine criminal cases and two Family Court proceedings; and Franklin County, 19 criminal appeals.

All three counties pay for indigent legal defense in criminal and Family Court cases, including appeals.

Franklin County Attorney Jonathan Miller said that many appeals include claims that a public defender did not do a rigorous enough job of defense, or the person places blame for a conviction or bad outcome in Family Court on poor lawyer work.

Obviously, those appeals can't be handled by the Public Defenders’ Office, so the Appellate Division assigns someone else to it, and the counties get the bill, he said.

But a regional approach to appeals, with a neutral attorney handling the cases, might help lower assigned-counsel expenses for all three entities.

Leitz said he and Miller will learn more about the proposed agreement and may bring it back up for discussion as a resolution at the Franklin County Legislature’s March 20 meeting.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymopressrepublican.com

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