John Schoeffel is the 2019 Kutak-Dodds Defender Prize winner. Over the past decade, John, Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, led a statewide effort to reform New York’s restrictive criminal discovery rules. Known as the “Blindfold Law,” this draconian law allowed prosecutors to withhold critical evidence from the defense until the eve of trial, leaving the accused “blindfolded” and unable to prepare. For many decades, the result has been coerced and uninformed pleas, inability to investigate cases, and wrongful convictions and incarceration. In April of this year, New York’s Legislature enacted “open file” discovery.
Instead of being among the most antiquated and unfair in the country, New York’s discovery statue is now a model for the nation. John’s statutory proposals and encyclopedic knowledge of the subject positioned him to effectively champion this cause among the defense community, grassroots advocates, bar associations, two statewide Task Forces, community based organizations and legislators. He helped raise the profile of open discovery to the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement.
John steadfastly addressed adamant prosecutorial opposition to these reforms and developed broad-based support. He never failed to take a phone call on the issue no matter at what hour. John’s leadership on these reforms will have lasting impact.
John’s latest success is part of an already remarkable career as a resource attorney. Incredibly prolific, John has worked long hours to produce a wide variety of extensive New York criminal defense litigation guides and memos that are beloved by his fellow attorneys for their scope, precision, and strategy. With a reputation for being helpful and always available, attorneys turn to John when they need help with a complicated area of law.