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In pursuing its mission to improve the quality and scope of publicly supported legal representation to low income people, NYSDA addresses legal, technical, and policy issues that affect public defense. NYSDA staff assist county and state officials, as well as public defense programs, with questions regarding workloads, budgets, and other issues. NYSDA has long been an affiliate organization of the New York State Association of Counties, and has worked closely with the Indigent Legal Services Office since its inception.

Tactics include collecting, adopting, and referring to standards relating to public defense. NYSDA's Board adopted standards approved by Chief Defenders convened by the Association in 2004, and standards created by the Client Advisory Board in 2005. Staff of the Backup Center continue to assist the Indigent Legal Services Office in the creation of standards, as has been true since 2011. A compilation of New York, national, and other public defense standards can be found here.

NYSDA also produces position papers, studies, and documents relating to public defense. Current writings may be found at Studies under Our Work, while archived materials are found at under NYSDA History at Reports & Studies. For example, in 1994, NYSDA completed an exhaustive study of practices used around the state for determining whether potential clients were eligible for public defense services. Entitled Determining Eligibility for Appointed Counsel in New York State: A Report from the Public Defense Backup Center, it described deficiencies in eligibility practice statewide. Its findings as to the lack of uniformity in criteria and procedures remained all too accurate for over 20 years. Its recommendations served as a resource supporting efforts to reform eligibility practices. In 2015, the Indigent Legal Services Office held hearings on eligibility in preparation for creating statewide standards pursuant to its statutory authority and designation as the implementing authority for the settlement of the historic Hurrell-Harring lawsuit. NYSDA provided testimony for those hearings and awaits the advent of the resulting standards.

NYSDA confers directly and indirectly with public defense providers and experts across New York and the nation. While maintaining personal contact with many knowledgeable public defense authorities, Backup Center staff also refer to materials available online. See for example PD links. By consulting others as well as relying on the considerable in-house expertise developed over nearly four decades, NYSDA provides effective guidance on public defense issues to the many who seek its help.

Finally, NYSDA seeks to connect those seeking information or public defense services in New York with a public defense program in their jurisdiction. Given the county-by-county nature of current public defense services, locating a public defense program can be difficult; the Chief Defender List provides a good place to start.
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