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County Executives Call On Cuomo To Fund Legal Defense Cost Of The Poor

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaking at Monday's news conference in White Plains. Joining him, from left, are Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaking at Monday's news conference in White Plains. Joining him, from left, are Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- County executives from Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties joined Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino on Monday in calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign state legislation to help pay the defense expenses of New York's poorest defendants.

In June, the state Senate and Assembly unanimously passed the Justice Equality Act to reduce disparities in New York's criminal justice system and eliminate an expensive unfunded mandate on counties.

Currently, county taxpayers pay nearly 75 percent of the legal bill for the state's poorest defendants, paying about $322 million of their annual defense costs that total $434 million statewide, according to the latest estimates. The legal defense subsidy broken down by county is $20 million in Westchester, $7 million in Dutchess, nearly $5 million in Rockland and about $1.2 million in Putnam.

"The bill takes steps to improve legal defense services for the poor in all counties in the state,” Astorino said during a news conference at his offices in White Plains.

Astorino, who also is president of the New York State County Executives Association, said, "We want to make sure those who don't have an attorney can afford one."

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell added, "This bill provides state leaders another opportunity to move a state responsibility off of the county taxpayer."

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said, “As a former state lawmaker I know how hard it can be to reach consensus in the State Capitol."

Molinaro called it substantial "to have unanimous adoption from both houses" of the New York General Assembly. "For all of us, this is the right thing for the state of New York to do."

"It improves legal services for the poor in counties across the state, and it provides mandate relief that will reduce the state’s reliance of county property taxes,'' Molinaro said. "That’s why it passed both houses unanimously and that’s why Governor Cuomo should sign the bill when it is delivered to his desk.

And Rockland County Executive Ed Day, said, “Every time the cost of state mandates increase, there is a direct impact on property taxes."

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