The "conflict representation" cases arise when the primary legal service provider, such as the Legal Aid Society, has a conflict of interest, for instance, when there are multiple defendants charged with the same crime.
In those instances, the provider represents one defendant while the others would be represented by the assigned counsel from 18-B panels, named for the article of County Law that provides for the assignment of private lawyers to represent the poor.
But Bloomberg unveiled a plan in 2008 and modified in 2010 that would give more of those cases to institutional providers through competitively bid contracts.
Several bar associations sued the city, arguing that Bloomberg's plan interrupts the flow of cases to 18-B panels, which are part of a bar group plan provided for under County Law §722(3) that cannot be altered without their consent.
Last October, a 4-3 majority of the state Court of Appeals found in Matter of the New York County Lawyers' Association v. Bloomberg, 155, that the city had established a legally valid indigent defense plan that uses both institutional providers and private counsel under Article 18-B of the County Law.
In a dissent, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said the plan "reduces, and indeed will likely marginalize the participation of [18-B] panel attorneys."
The Legal Aid Society intervened in the litigation in support of Bloomberg's plan.
Steven Banks, the organization's attorney-in-chief, said Legal Aid planned on participating in the city's program as an institutional provider. He said several other factors could be in play that may reduce the need for assigned counsel, such as the possibility of revamped stop-and-frisks policies and a proposal to reduce arrests for low-level marijuana possession.
The city's current contract with the Legal Aid Society provides for the organization to handle 211,000 cases this fiscal year across the five boroughs.
Still, said Banks, "We are ready, willing and able to provide cost effective and comprehensive representation to additional New Yorkers accused of crimes, often wrongfully."