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Court Allows Challenge to Legal Aid System in N.Y.

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Court Allows Challenge to Legal Aid System in N.Y.There are enough signs that New York’s system of providing public defenders is failing the state’s poor people that a broad class-action suit challenging the system can move ahead, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday, setting the stage for a sweeping battle in the courts and perhaps the Legislature.

The 4-3 ruling came in a closely watched suit that civil liberties lawyers said could be a model for similar challenges around the country.

The ruling, written by the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said that the suit — which had been bitterly opposed by the state — could proceed because it posed fundamental questions about the fairness of the criminal justice system.

“Wrongful conviction, the ultimate sign of a criminal justice system’s breakdown and failure, has been documented in too many cases,” the decision said.

Judge Lippman wrote that lower courts had to review the claim in the suit that New York State, in effect, was providing no legal help in many cases because the lawyers assigned were unresponsive, inattentive, or unavailable.


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