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Saturday 10 December 2022
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Onondaga County Deputy Attorney to Take Over Criminal Defense Program

doughertyjpg-e25174cb1a389485Amidst department changes, Renee Captor, executive director of the Assigned Counsel Program, has recently announced that she will be leaving her position. Longtime county lawyer Kathleen Dougherty, who has 17 years of experience in the county, will replace her in mid-January.

Dougherty will help staff her office come January. The open positions include a deputy director, quality enhancement attorney and a chief financial officer.

Millions of people are living with criminal records in the United States, and nearly 4,000 years have been served by innocent convicts. Many of these people were convicted simply because the justice system failed them, and they did not have access to a lawyer.

Free criminal defense, funded by taxpayers, is required under the Sixth Amendment. The precedent has been set form by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1963.

Onondaga County was found to be one of the worst counties in the state when it came to providing defense for impoverished criminal clients. A lawsuit was filed by the New York State Civil Liberties Union nearly a decade ago found Onondaga County, along with four other New York counties, guilty of depriving poor suspects of proper defense.

In October, reforms were made to ensure that poor residents who make less than 250% percent of the federal poverty level (singles making less than $29,700, or a family of four making less than $60,750) are now eligible for a free lawyer. Previously, only those making 125% or less would qualify.

Additionally, the state has allocated $5 million to the county next year to upgrade the lawyer program. Statewide, upwards of $100 million will be spent on similar programs.

Dougherty, in her current position as an Onondaga County deputy attorney, was the lawyer responsible for facilitating the county’s handling of these changes.

As executive director, Dougherty will be responsible for managing the current criminal defense program. Of 1,315,561 lawyers in the U.S. alone, few are hired free of charge to their clients. The Onondaga County criminal defense program is made up of about 170 lawyers handling around 14,000 cases every year. These lawyers aren’t public defenders, however. They are hired and paid per case, similarly to independent contractors.

Dougherty will also lead the county litigation unit.

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