“A day in my life without someone talking about the Porco trial is like a day without sunshine,” laughed Terence L. Kindlon, the new acting public defender for Albany County. He was, somewhat sarcastically, referring to the sensational 2006 conviction of axe murderer Christopher Porco, who was accused of violently attacking his parents in their Delmar home two years earlier—killing his father and leaving his mother for dead.
“Everybody was transfixed by it for a couple of years,” Kindlon said, noting that he and his wife, Laurie Shanks, were recognized as far away as San Diego as the defense lawyers on that trial after it appeared on the television show, “48 Hours.”
Kindlon has tried more than 30 murder cases in an impressive career spanning more than 42 years in Albany County. “We had a great run,” he said. “My wife has been with me for the last 28 years and we’ve tried a number of cases together. We’ve had some wonderful experiences. We argued a same-sex marriage case in the Court of Appeals—hardly anyone knows that.”
On Thursday, August 4, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy announced the appointment of Kindlon as the new acting Albany County public defender. The attorney joined the public defenders’ office in June as senior counsel and director of training, just two months after he officially retired his long-held private practice. “I had been concerned about the public defender’s office for some time, but I had absolutely no idea,” he said, when asked if he knew he would be offered the position after retirement. “My retirement was sincerely laughed at by all of my relatives and friends who said I didn’t know how to retire, but the reality is that this opportunity basically just popped out of the sky and it was something to which I could not say no.”
The lawyer began his career in the early 70s in public defense, before he shifted to private practice. Throughout his legal career, Kindlon has received a number of awards, including the New York State Defenders Association Service of Justice Award and the NYS Bar Association’s David S. Michaels Memorial Award for Courageous Efforts in Promoting Integrity in the Criminal Justice System. He has also received the Martindale Hubble AV rating (highest ratings for Legal Ability and General Ethical Standards) and has been selected for inclusion in “New York Super Lawyers” for the past several years.
“Terry is one of the area’s most highly respected attorneys,” said McCoy, when he announced the appointment. “When I asked him to join our staff to assist with guiding and training two months ago, it was because of his tremendous knowledge, skill and experience. I am thrilled Terry has accepted the position of acting public defender and will provide the leadership needed in this important role.”
“It means a lot to me,” Kindlon said, “and to everyone who’s a public defender these days.” He accepted the role primarily because the county executive has promised him that he will put the public defender’s office on “a level playing field” with the county’s district attorney. “Indigent criminal defense has emerged as one of the most important civil rights issues of the 21st Century,” he said. “Equal protection of the law has meaning only when the least powerful among us are as zealously and effectively defended as the most powerful. We are beginning a process designed to upgrade and modernize the Albany County public defender’s office to make it a powerful, respected force in the criminal justice system.”
What that means to Kindlon is “a high level of training for the assistant public defenders, something that has simply not been the case in the last decade or so.” He envisions extended training courses, practice trials and greater cooperation among local counties to pool resources and offer additional learning opportunities.
The other “big problem” that he hopes to address is the “incredible disparity” between the salaries that are paid to pubic defenders and the salaries that are paid to assistant district attorneys in Albany County. “It’s nuts,” he exclaimed. “If you look around a little bit, at Saratoga County, for example, the salaries for assistant public defenders are exactly the same as the salaries for assistant prosecutors.” Comparing the system here to the one in which his wife began her law career out in Arizona, he said that she worked for several years as an assistant prosecutor before she distinguished herself in her career and was invited to interview to join the public defender’s office. When she ultimately got the job, he said, her pay remained the same. “And that’s the way it should be! We’re both in the same trial. We both deal with the same issues.” (The 2016 approved Albany County budget appropriated approx. $2.4 million for the district attorney’s office and a little more than $1.2 million for the office of the public defender.)
One of his goals, Kindlon said, is to make the position of public defender a career goal, rather than a stepping stone, as it is currently often viewed in Albany County. “If you look at the federal public defenders office, which is right in downtown Albany, that’s the way the county should be. They have full-time assistant public defenders, they’re paid exactly the same way as the assistant US attorneys are paid, they’ve got professional, highly-qualified investigators, they’ve got systematic training programs, they’ve got a great secretarial staff and paralegals to help, they’ve got a brief bank, they’ve got the most modern computers – really everything you should have in order to provide a zealous and appropriate defense to your clients.”
The June passage of legislation in the state Assembly and Senate, sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D-109) and Senator John DiFrancisco (R-50), would go a long way toward helping Kindlon accomplish his goals—assuming the bill is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo once it’s sent to his office. Currently, according to Kindlon, the county public defender’s office is funded through county taxes, grant money, “and a lot of free labor from assistant public defenders.” The new legislation would transfer the responsibility for funding the federally-mandated office from local municipalities to the state by requiring it to reimburse all the costs of providing “indigent legal services.”
The New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) commended Assembly’s passage of bill in June, saying, “Under the existing funding framework, individual counties are responsible for funding public defense offices and many offices are severely understaffed, under-supported and overworked – at the expense of indigent clients, and of fairness. Passage of the Public Defense Mandate Relief Act is an important step to ensure effective and quality representation for all New Yorkers.”
Kindlon commended Fahy, specifically, as well as Sen. George Amedore (R-46) and Judge Larry Rosen, the county’s Assigned Counsel Administrator, for the work they did to secure passage of the legislation. He also remarked on the bipartisan nature of the bill, which was passed unanimously by both houses. It has yet to be sent to the governor’s desk.
“I’m optimistic, hopeful and happy,” said Kindlon, giving the lion’s share of credit to McCoy. “He’s the driving force behind this; he’s the one who originated this idea and I think that he, together with Rosen, Fahy and Amedore, are people to whom these public defenders owe a debt of gratitude. They’ve done a wonderful thing here. Our office is going to evolve, it’s going to be modernized, it’s going to be updated.”
Eventually, the county will find someone to take on the public defender role permanently. “I was brought in to be director of training, not to be the public defender,” said Kindlon. “I’m confident that they’re going to find somebody, but it’s not me. I’m almost 70 and just spent more than 40 years running my own office—I would like to focus on the training and let somebody else, who’s perhaps more interested in administration and office management, run the office.”
Calling his current team of assistant public defenders “kickass attorneys,” Kindlon said, “For me, this is like a dream come true. I can’t believe they’re actually paying me to do this.”