Legal Aid's Criminal Practice Attorney-in-Charge and New York State Bar President Seymour James Jr. Participates In New York County Lawyers' Association Panel On Gideon
FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013
The New York County Lawyers' March 18 panel commemorating the 50th anniversary of 'Gideon' included, from left, Stewart Aaron of Arnold & Porter; Seymour James Jr., attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice of the Legal Aid Society; Zachary Carter of Dorsey & Whitney; Peter Zimroth of Arnold & Porter; Catherine Christian of New York City's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor; and David Patton of Federal Defenders of New York. Photo: Rohanna Mertens

As reported in the New York Law Journal, Seymour James Jr., the Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Society's Criminal Practice and the President of the New York State Bar Association, participated in a panel discussion on the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright that there is a right to counsel in criminal cases. James spoke about the lack of timely, comprehensive discovery in criminal cases in New York State as an impediment to access to justice for low-income defendants. He also spoke about the importance of caseload limits for criminal defense lawyers and pointed to the current phase-in of the ground-braking law in New York State to ensure that low-income New Yorkers charged with criminal conduct, often wrongfully, in New York City are represented by lawyers with proper caseloads.

Stewart Aaron, NYCLA's president and head of Arnold & Porter's New York office, introduced the panel: moderator Peter Zimroth, a partner at Arnold & Porter and former New York City Corporation Counsel; Zachary Carter, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and former Eastern District U.S. attorney; Catherine Christian, chief of alternative sentencing division at New York City's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, and a former NYCLA president; David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York; and James.




The New York Law Journal
Courts Still Often Fai to Provide Justice for Poor Criminal Defendants, Panel Says
By Brendan Pierson
March 22, 2013

Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, the state and federal justice systems still often fail to provide justice to poor criminal defendants, according to a panel hosted on March 18 by the New York County Lawyers' Association at its lower Manhattan headquarters.

The discussion commemorated the anniversary of the 1963 decision, which held that all indigent defendants facing felony charges are entitled to court-appointed counsel. The ruling was later extended to all criminal offenses.

The panel was co-hosted by Arnold & Porter, whose one-time partner, and later Supreme Court justice, Abraham Fortas represented plaintiff Clarence Gideon in the high court.

The evening began with a screening of a new documentary produced by the non-profit Constitution Project, "Defending Gideon," which interspersed the story of Gideon's own case with the more recent case of Eddie Joe Lloyd, a man who was wrongly incarcerated for rape and murder for 17 years until he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002. Lloyd's appellate attorney, far from providing a vigorous defense, told the court that his client was "guilty and should die."

The film suggested that, despite the legal protections of Gideon, poor defendants still go without legal counsel, largely thanks to overworked public defenders.

Stewart Aaron, NYCLA's president and head of Arnold & Porter's New York office, introduced the panel: moderator Peter Zimroth, a partner at Arnold & Porter and former New York City corporation counsel; Zachary Carter, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and former Eastern District U.S. attorney; Catherine Christian, chief of alternative sentencing division at New York City's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, and a former NYCLA president; Seymour James Jr., head of the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society and president of the New York State Bar Association; and David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York.

The New York County Lawyers' March 18 panel commemorating the 50th anniversary of 'Gideon' included, from left, Stewart Aaron of Arnold & Porter; Seymour James Jr., attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice of the Legal Aid Society; Zachary Carter of Dorsey & Whitney; Peter Zimroth of Arnold & Porter; Catherine Christian of New York City's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor; and David Patton of Federal Defenders of New York. At left, Carter makes a point as Christian looks on.

Patton opened with a grim take on the state of public defense in America, arguing that "we're in worse shape" than 50 years ago.

He said that then, about 15 percent of federal criminal cases went to trial, and about one third to one half of defendants needed court-appointed counsel.

"Those numbers suggest Shangri-la" compared to the present-day reality, he said, in which barely 3 percent of cases go to trial and 80 percent of defendants need court-appointed counsel.

He also noted that while previously only about 30 percent of defendants were black or Latino, the number is now closer to 70 percent. Public defenders are overworked and underfunded, he added.

Patton also argued that mandatory minimum sentences had effectively abolished the adversarial justice system for many criminal defendants, allowing prosecutors to extract pleas with the threat of charges that carry much higher minimum sentences.

Christian disagreed.

"I don't accept the proposition that it's prosecutors' fault why Gideon has gone unfulfilled," she said. Christian said that prosecutors generally do see themselves as part of an adversarial system and want defendants to be well represented.

"My God, if I get a conviction, I hope it won't be because this guy is represented by a boob," she said of her own thinking as a prosecutor.

She also rejected the idea that underpaid public defenders are responsible for bad outcomes.

If a public defender does a bad job, she said, "I don't think it's because that lawyer is underpaid. I think he doesn't care."

Carter returned to the subject of sentencing. He said that even non-binding guidelines as mandatory minimums can have the same effect because judges "have taken comfort" in them. Guidelines, he said, are a way for judges to deal with "the most emotionally difficult part of the job."

James took up that theme, saying that mandatory sentencing laws and guidelines have taken discretion away from judges and given it to prosecutors. Prosecutors are further empowered by the often very limited discovery available before a plea is offered.

"You're asked to make a decision about whether to take a plea without knowing much about the case," he said.

Zimroth concluded the panel by asking how justice for indigent defendants could be tackled at a legislative level.

The panelists had no quick-fix solutions. All said that attorneys need to do more to raise public awareness of the issues, and all said that public defenders should have more financial resources.

Carter "half-facetiously" suggested banning laws named after crime victims, summing up the political calculus faced by legislators who want to tackle mandatory sentencing: "I know this is a silly law, but I can't vote against Angie's Law."