Newburgh, NY— More than fifty years since the historic Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision guaranteed the right to counsel in criminal matters, New York State Senate candidate Tom Basile is calling for an expansion of that right to include many civil cases. Basile has announced he will sponsor legislation next year in the Senate to expand the right to civil counsel to ensure effective representation for low income residents involved in housing, veterans’ benefits, and domestic violence matters among others.

 “If you’re a mother involved in a landlord-tenant dispute or need an order of protection against an abuser, you need an attorney to help handle your case,” said Basile who has been endorsed by long-serving Senator Bill Larkin to succeed the veteran lawmaker in Albany. “Right now, people are left with the untenable position of representing themselves in court which places any plaintiff at a significant disadvantage, going into debt to hire an attorney or hoping to obtain pro bono legal services through often understaffed agencies. None of those options are acceptable.”  Basile also acknowledged that many civil actions have bearing on lives and families similar to criminal consequences, impacting the most fundamental necessities of life.

Access to competent, effective counsel for those who need help the most is essential to upholding the promise of our Constitution to ensure equal access to our legal system, Basile says.  

Basile’s bill would also call for a sharp increase in funding for non-profit organizations that provide legal services for the disadvantaged, veterans and other groups who may not be able to afford representation. Any non-profit funding increase would be paid for out of existing state resources and prevent any local fiscal impacts on municipalities. Non-profits that aid low-income plaintiffs such as Legal Services of the Hudson Valley in our area have a proven track record and provide a significant return on the investment. 

“When people in need have access to appropriate representation, those individuals and families are often able to rely less on State and local resources,” said Basile who called on Governor Cuomo and leaders of both parties to advance the expansion.

“We apparently have enough money to spread billions around to corporations, buy road signs made in Arkansas, install electric vehicle infrastructure and give tax breaks to Hollywood producers. Any suggestion that we cannot find adequate funding streams to support organizations like Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and other non-profits that help low income plaintiffs is simply ridiculous.”

There are currently no bills in the State Senate that would expand civil representation outside of New York City in this fashion. “We need to do this. Too many people in our area are not financially stable enough to handle real legal challenges. Whether you’re a veteran in need of assistance, a patient in dire need of help or a struggling family seeking the opportunity to stay in place and retain consistency in education and employment, our duty is to ensure people get the help they need.”

The United States Supreme Court held in Gideon that providing counsel to the poor was “fundamental and essential to a fair trial,” in criminal cases.  The Court also commented that the fact that wealthier defendants in criminal cases hire lawyers is a demonstration that counsel is not a luxury but rather a necessity. Many legal scholars and national organizations including the American Bar Association and the Public Justice Center have long advocated for the extension of the right to counsel for civil matters.

Basile received his law degree attending Fordham and Georgetown Schools of Law and is a member of the New York Bar.  He has been endorsed by the Republican and Conservative Parties of Orange, Rockland and Ulster Counties.


Bob Driscoll