New York Test Case Highlights Deplorable Nature of Appointed Counsel System

Today’s New York Times contains an interesting article concerning the deplorable state of court-appointed counsel in New York State and the lawsuit brought by people challenging the court appointed counsel system. Kimberly Hurell-Harring was represented by court appointed counsel in Washington County, New York.

She was charged with smuggling a small amount of marijuana into a prison for her husband (an inmate at the facility). The court appointed counsel was a local favorite and the low ball bidder on the public defender contract. Counsel had multiple reprimands, suffered from depression, and was in trouble with the bar on other matters of neglect. He pled his client guilty to a non-existent felony. Tipped off about the case, the New York Civil Liberties Union sent an observer into the courthouse and watched. They reported that the attorney had virtually no contact with his client who rushed the case through. Ms. Hurell-Harring is the lead plaintiff in a civil suit challenging whether New York is providing adequate counsel to its indigent defendants and challenging the decision to leave the appointed counsel system in the hands of various counties. Except for the name of the suit, this could be Michigan. A similar suit is pending in the Michigan Courts and is currently on appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Except for the names of the parties, the facts are virtually the same. The ruling in this case could have a dramatic effect on Michigan law.