Luongo to Take Over as Head of Defender Organization Group

 PHOTO | THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY

PHOTO | THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY

New York Law Journal | Legal Aid's Luongo Set to Take Over as Head of Defender Organization Group

BY COLBY HAMILTON

The head of the Legal Aid Society's criminal practice takes over as leader of the Chief Defenders Association of New York, a recently created body that seeks in part to bridge the divide between upstate and downstate practitioners.

Tina Luongo, the Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice chief, is set to take over as president of the Chief Defenders Association of New York this week. Luongo replaces outgoing president Mark Williams, a government-appointed public defender in Cattaraugus County.

Speaking to the New York Law Journal Tuesday, Williams said he’s very excited to see Luongo take over at a time when the group’s goals are beginning to be realized.

“One of our big accomplishments with CDANY is the creation of a statewide organization, upstate and downstate, rural and urban defenders together, more than they’ve ever been together in the past,” Williams said.

The organization was founded in 2014 specifically to bridge that geography gap and bring the varieties of administrators of public defender organizations under one roof, according to Luongo.

“Public defenders in New York state have struggled for many, many years,” she said. “Because we are a county-based system, and there are so many counties, there was a real need to coalesce around the things that are important for us as a profession: funding, and funding of public defense; high caseloads; and law reform to make sure that our clients are treated fairly and get due process.”

Even in its short existence—Luongo is now the fourth head of the organization—CDANY is counting some recent victories. This year’s executive budget includes approximately $50 million to provide limits on attorney caseloads, as well as representation at first appearance for defendants. The money is being allocated after the passage of the Justice Equality Act last year by the state, which CDANY pushed for along with partners such as the New York State Defenders Association.

“We really are very happy that the governor saw the need for quality improvements” in his initial budget proposal, Luongo said.

One of the top priorities going forward with these new funds will be to address the need, particularly upstate, to recruit and train public defenders to be there on arraignment for clients, Luongo said.

“We have down here in New York City, but in many counties they do not,” she said. “A presence of an attorney is critical.”

The governor’s most recent set of criminal justice reform proposals—bail, the discovery process, speedy trials and others—will also be a focus in the coming weeks and months, Luongo said.