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Bar Association's Assigned Counsel Program hiring its own investigators

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Criminal defense lawyers are benefitting from some additions at the Erie County Bar Association's Assigned Counsel Program.

Prosecutors have police departments, forensic labs and District Attorney Office investigators. Defense lawyers may have some help, or may not. That's particularly true when they are defending someone pro bono or in a case that has been assigned.

It is even more complicated under new criminal discovery changes, when prosecutors have to turn over all of their evidence to the defense within 15 days. It might be a load of paper, video, forensics or whatever.

That is changing somewhat, with the Assigned Counsel Program hiring investigators of its own. Deputy Administrator Mark Worrell said it is helpful.

"We now have five investigators on our staff that we allow these attorneys to use in their defense of their clients," Worrell said. "This is just within the last 6-9 months that we have investigators."

"It makes a huge difference," said defense lawyer Paul Dell. "It puts us more on an even playing field with the district attorney. Because, otherwise, the district attorney is defining the facts of the case, based on their own investigation. And if the defense does their own investigation, we often find something quite different."

Dell said it means the defense can look for its own evidence, not just try to rebut or refute evidence supplied by the prosecution.

"You're set up to lose because they've already got that information and they've got an indictment and they've got a theory of the case," he said. "It's almost impossible to convince a judge or a jury otherwise if you're playing with their rules with their facts."

It is like two drivers in an auto accident. Each has a version of what happened, but there may be a surveillance camera that sees everything.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.