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April 6, 2010

STATE BAR PRESIDENT MICHAEL E. GETNICK COMMENTS ON REPORT RECENTLY ISSUED BY STATE COMPTROLLER DINAPOLI

New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City) today issued the following statement in response to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's recently released fiscal report, entitled "New York's Deficit Shuffle."

"Comptroller DiNapoli's report - highlighted in various news media stories today - that  nearly $6.6 million from the Indigent Legal Services Fund has been 'swept' into the state's General Fund raises serious concerns about the ability of New York State to meet the constitutionally protected right to counsel in criminal matters.

"Diverting this money into the General Fund, instead of using it to pay for the growing need for legal defense services to the indigent - for which it was created - seriously jeopardizes the right to effective counsel that our Constitution demands. The state's budget should not be balanced on the backs of the indigent nor should it be balanced at the expense of providing equal access to the justice system for all New Yorkers."

The statute governing attorney registration, Judiciary Law section 468-a, specifies that $50 of the $350 biennial fee "shall be allocated to and deposited in a fund established by section 98-b of the state finance law," which is the statute establishing the Indigent Legal Defense Fund. In 2003, the State Bar's House of Delegates, the official policy-making body of the New York State Bar Association, endorsed the establishment of an Indigent Legal Services Fund with the condition that $50 of the biennial attorney registration fee be dedicated in its entirety as a
source of permanent funding for this Fund.

In April 2004, the House of Delegates approved of a resolution sponsored by the State Bar's Special Committee to Ensure the Quality of Mandated Representation specifically requiring that funds from the Indigent Legal Services Fund be dedicated to assist counties in providing legal representation for persons financially unable to afford counsel and for no other purposes.

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Founded in 1876, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. The State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.