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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Legal service for the poor is a fiscal dilemma

Local government leaders often complain that the state forces them to offer services without forking over the needed resources. But in this case it may be the state that faces a new mandate.

Eight years ago, a commission appointed by the state's then-chief judge, Judith Kaye, found the state's system to provide the poor with proper legal representation was so uneven around New York as to be unconstitutional. On Oct. 7 in Albany, a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union, first filed in 2007, is due to go to trial.

Sooner or later, the suit's resolution, either in or out of court, becomes a fiscal issue. The NYCLU cites "a lack of adequate funding, oversight and statewide standards" for public defenders. Suffolk is cited as one negative example; the group reported that in 2010, 11 Legal Aid attorneys in the county court bureau each carried an average of 255 felony cases.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his departure last week, filed a statement Thursday in support of the suit seeking to prod Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other officials to carry out reforms. While he's promised some federal aid, the long-delayed settlement or verdict will likely shape who pays for what.

 

HALPIN COMEBACK? Former Suffolk executive and ex-Assemb. Patrick Halpin confirmed Friday that he's mulling a move to replace on the ballot Nassau Legis. David Denenberg of Merrick, who withdrew last week as the Democratic candidate in the 8th Senate District race against GOP Legis. Michael Venditto. Halpin, 61, is a managing director at the consulting firm Mercury Public Affairs, and lives in the district. "I have been asked to seriously consider it," he said, by Democrats he declined to identify. He said he was doing so over the weekend "out of respect for the governor" who has declared support for electing a Democratic Senate majority.

 

AAA-RATED: Regional American Automobile Association spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. had this to say about school-zone speed cameras -- which remain, to put it gently, a work in progress in Nassau County: "We support speed cameras in school zones as long as they're accompanied by warning signs. This has the effect of actually slowing vehicles and serves as a preventive measure rather than a punitive one. In any circumstance, revenue from electronic enforcement should be used for expanded safety programs, not general budgets."

Try getting a cash-squeezed municipality to swear to that last part.

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