There is a lot in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget that the Legal Aid Society is disappointed with, including what it calls the budget’s failure to propose any new money for public defenders and legal service organizations.

“It’s really astonishing,” Tina Luongo, chief attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice for the Legal Aid Society, said of the governor’s $141 million increase in the Aid to Prosecution budget, and zero increase in the Aid to Defense budget for public defenders.

Changes to the 2019 Discovery Laws requiring that prosecution must provide discovery to the defendant as soon as practicable was supported by Legal Aid, but it was not supported with proper funding. The allocation in this year’s executive budget is meant to remedy that by providing funding for increased staffing and technology. 

“This really struck us, as public defenders statewide, as the governor just really ignoring us,” Luongo said. 

Hochul’s proposal includes $52 million in aid to prosecution funding for all 62 district attorneys' offices; $40 million to funding to support discovery reform implementation; $31.4 million for alternatives to incarceration programs and $20 million for pretrial services.

In a statement released after the governor’s budget, the Legal Aid Society said that funding that favors one side of the legal system over all others reinforces bias and erodes efforts to further public safety.

“Public defenders are part of providing the justice in the criminal legal system that’s critical to the accused,” Luongo explained. “You can’t have a conversation about public safety and community without talking about the work that happens on the other side of law enforcement.”

Luongo estimated that the Aid to Defense budget needs an increase of $129 million in order to update technology to adapt to the “terabytes and terabytes of discovery” that are expected to come in from offices of District Attorneys around the state.  

Defenders are also in need of funding for more staffing, particularly paralegals.

“In New York City, the defender offices and the district attorneys did a joint letter to the mayor. That’s how aligned we are in this call,” Luongo said. “You have to balance the scales.”