Watch Vinoo on Fox News answer questions about his Daily News op-ed that contributed to Governor Cuomo’s decision to declare criminal defense lawyers as “essential” during the lockdown. Yet, Governor Cuomo didn’t declare all lawyers essential—why not? With host Trace Gallagher.
The Daily News Saturday published Vinoo’s op-ed on why criminal defense attorneys are necessary despite Governor Cuomo’s exclusion of them and all lawyers in his coronavirus shutter order.
Friday, through Executive Order 202.6, Gov. Cuomo ordered that any business not designated “essential” close its doors until further notice. Yet while designating law enforcement as “essential,” Cuomo didn’t designate criminal defense firms such as mine the same way. In fact, his executive order is devoid of the words “attorney” or “lawyer.” By not designating criminal defense lawyers as “essential,” the governor is gutting the constitutional right to an attorney, guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment for those facing criminal charges.
In response to COVID-19, employees at my firm were given the option of working from home, and those who have continued to work in our Wall Street office have practiced “social distancing.” We still have limited but necessary face-to-face meetings with clients. Sometimes those facing prison need to meet with their lawyer in person — whether that’s at a police precinct house or in a hearing room or a jail.
Our clients are among the most vulnerable in society as they face the full weight of the government against them. In addition, our team has to process, catalog and analyze gigabytes of evidence that the U.S. Attorneys and DAs give us in hard copy, on flash drives and CDs. The government isn’t anywhere close to 100% online, so we can’t be either.
The New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. Attorney here in Manhattan brought in 14 defendants wearing masks for arraignment this week. The article went on to note that Manhattan DA Cy Vance announced he was going to have prosecutors and investigators continue investigations during this pandemic — with some working from home.
State and federal prosecutors clearly haven’t stopped working during this time, which means defense attorneys cannot either, nor can we afford to do so with hands tied behind our backs.
Also Friday, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore sent out a video message to attorneys statewide reaffirming the importance of courts. Yet Cuomo, an attorney and former prosecutor, didn’t think to include law firms in his executive order.
After Cuomo made his announcement, I went and read his order multiple times; it includes a place where those wishing to be designated essential can make that request. I did so within minutes. We are still awaiting a response.
Though I had read the order multiple times looking for the words “attorney” or “lawyers,” it had gone over my head that the state is designating liquor stores as “essential.” Then multiple friends and colleagues began messaging me to suggest otherwise. Finally, I saw an announcement from the New York State Liquor Store Association asserting that liquor stores have indeed been deemed “essential” and can remain open for business. While I enjoy a drink as much as the next guy, I can’t seem to find the right to drink alcohol in the Constitution.
Forget liquor stores. When the Governor decrees that cops and prosecutors can’t make arrests, then I’ll be the first to say that criminal defense attorneys are non-essential. Until then, you’d better believe we are.
Today, “King” (Governor) Andrew Cuomo ordered that all “non-essential” businesses close until further notice. King Cuomo, however, while designating law enforcement as essential, didn’t designate criminal defense firms as such. King Cuomo via Executive Order just threw out the Constitutional right to an attorney for those facing criminal charges.
In response to COVID-19, we at Varghese & Associates, P.C., have practiced “social distancing” in our Wall Street office but still have limited but necessary face-to-face meetings. Sometimes those facing prison need to meet with their lawyer—in-person! Our clients are among the most vulnerable in society as they face the full weight of the government against them. In addition, our team has to process, catalog, and analyze gigs of evidence that the U.S. Attorneys and DAs give us in hard copy, on flash drives, and CDs. The government isn’t anywhere close to 100% online, so we can’t be either.
A few minutes after the King’s proclamation, I requested Empire State Development designate Varghese & Associates, P.C. and criminal defense firms and agencies like ours an “essential” business. Though these are difficult times, now isn’t the time to suspend the Constitution; and if the President of the United States isn’t doing it, neither should New York’s Governor.
With COVID-19 and the government’s actions in response, local companies had to adapt quickly. As a criminal defense firm, we had to be ready for the potential suspension of civil liberties, and the likelihood that the state, local, and federal government will be quick to dispense with the Constitution.
At Varghese & Associates, P.C., we were ready! Because we were, we will be continuing operations as normal.
We had the technology to work remotely years prior to this pandemic and we always made sure to be ahead of the game with both the latest software and hardware. Because of our state of preparedness, we are now able to smoothly transition into a mostly online format and provide the same high-quality services we have always been able to provide.
For now, there will be limited in-person consultations for the sake of everyone’s health and safety; however, we are more than happy to conduct video calls for consultations. In fact, we have been using video conferencing for all of our non-New York based and international clients for years. Please call us at 212-430-6469 or email us at [email protected] to schedule a consultation with us.
We hope that everyone stays safe during these troubling times and that hopefully soon, everything will return to normal. As we always have, we are ready to help clients, no matter the situation.