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Working Group to Research, Plan, and lay Groundwork for Creation of 

Erie County Public Defender’s Office 


ERIE COUNTY, NY— As part of his promise to the public made during his 2024 State of the County Address, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz today announced the members of a working group of local attorneys and judges who will be tasked with analyzing how Erie County currently provides indigent defense and study ways to provide the highest quality criminal defense and Family Court representation through the most cost effective process.


“For decades, Erie County has borne millions of dollars in extra costs associated with defending individuals charged with crimes who cannot afford an attorney. It's a fundamental constitutional right that the county takes very seriously, but this critical work is outsourced to external agencies as no Erie County office currently exists to handle this mandated service,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “The establishment of this working group is the first step towards improving the quality of public defense in Erie County, providing much-needed oversight to the indigent defense agencies, and finding efficiencies to save taxpayer dollars. This is a dynamic, diverse and accomplished working group and I thank these respected professionals for volunteering their time and expertise to research ways to improve our system.”


“While subcontracting with the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo and the Erie County Bar Association for the provision of indigent defense may have provided a taxpayer value over a public defender’s office in the past, that is no longer obviously the case,” added Erie County Budget Director Mark Cornell.  “Mostly due to the increase in hourly rate for the Assigned Counsel program included in the 2023-24 NYS Budget, the indigent defense program’s cost has nearly doubled over the past two years from $13.1 million in 2022 to $25.8 million in 2024.” 


Working group co-chairs will be the Honorable Susan Eagan, Erie County Court Judge and Supervising Criminal Court Judge for the 8th Judicial District, and former Erie County District Attorney and partner at Lippes Mathias LLP John Flynn.


Members of the working group include:


  • Brian Melber, criminal defense attorney and partner at Personius Melber and newly elected Vice President of the Bar Association of Erie County;
  • Joel Daniels, criminal defense attorney;
  • James Harrington, criminal defense attorney partner at Harrington & Mahoney;
  • Jessica Kulpit, criminal defense attorney;
  • Marissa Washington, Support Magistrate in Erie County Family Court and current President of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, WNY Chapter;
  • Marianne Mariano, Federal Public Defender for the Western District of New York State; 
  • Ayoka Tucker, Family Court Attorney whose primary practice is within Family Law; 
  • Hon. Erin Peradotto, NYS Supreme Court justice (retired), partner at Harris Beach; 
  • Erie County legislator John Gilmour (9th District), a criminal defense attorney in private practice; and, 
  • Erie County legislator Michael Kooshoian (3rd District), a former Assistant District Attorney. 


Also participating in the working group are County Attorney Jeremy Toth, Deputy County Attorney Kristen Walder, and Assistant County Attorney Ifeoluwa Popoola.  Deputy County Attorney Walder is currently responsible for drafting the myriad contracts with legal service providers and Assistant County Attorney Popoola, President of the Minority Bar Association, formerly worked for Legal Aid in Buffalo City Court.




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