The Relative Cost of 18-B Panel and Legal Aid Society Defense Services


In this chapter we examine the extent of the financial burden placed on New York City by 18-B Panel representation. Our purpose is to understand why the City of New York made no attempt to control or prevent the growth in referrals of serious felony cases to the Panel. This trend was problematic given the City’s inability to cope with the escalating cost of Panel representation, and given the ostensible cost-efficiency of institutional representation. In a report prepared by a task force of the Office of Court Administration’s Subcommittee on Legal Representation of the Indigent, and in a report by a Mayor’s Commission appointed during the 1982 strike of Legal Aid Society staff attorneys, the City had been told that on a per-case basis, Panel representation costs up to three times as much as Society representation. Our findings, however, indicate that the Panel in fact disposed of cases more cheaply than the Society. It is not surprising, therefore, that the City administration, which traditionally has valued cost-efficiency more highly than effective adversarial representation, had not acted to stem the unabated growth in Panel caseloads.

The chapter begins with an analysis of the comparative per-case costs expected of each entity given the findings of the earlier reports and the Legal Aid Society’s budget contentions. Next, we compare the results of this analysis with the information given to the City in the compensation claims submitted by 18-B Panel attorneys in over 13,800 cases. Then we analyze the comparative costs of Panel and Society representation in terms of the kinds of cases (Supreme Court and Criminal Court) handled by each entity, and the method of disposition (trial and non-trial). We conclude with a discussion of some systemic implications regarding the present structure of the indigent defense system.

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