The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, over a two-judge dissent and a concurrence, reversing the Appellate Division, determined that the Office of Victim Services (OVS) regulations limiting attorney’s fees for crime victim claimants were consistent with the statutory language and rational:
OVS regulations formerly provided that claimants had a “right to be represented . . . at all stages of a claim” … and, “[w]henever an award [was] made to a claimant who [was] represented by an attorney, [OVS was required to] approve a reasonable fee commensurate with the services rendered, up to $1,000,” unless the request for attorneys’ fees was premised on a claim “submitted without legal or factual basis” … . OVS acknowledges that this meant that attorneys’ fees, if reasonable, were available at all stages of a claim. However, effective January 13, 2016, OVS amended 9 NYCRR § 525.9 to provide that “[a]ny claimant . . . may choose to be represented before [OVS], at any stages of a claim, by an attorney-at-law . . . and/or before the Appellate Division upon judicial review of the office’s final determination,” but “only those fees incurred by a claimant during: (1) the administrative review for reconsideration of such decision . . . ; and/or (2) the judicial review of the final decision of [OVS] . . . may be considered for reimbursement” … .
OVS issued a regulatory impact statement indicating that the “purpose of th[e] rule change [wa]s to limit attorneys’ fees pursuant to article 22 of the Executive Law.” OVS stated that the amendments were “designed to conform the regulations to the enacting statute,” explaining that the prior regulations permitted claimants to recover attorneys’ fees that “far exceed[ed]” the “reasonable expenses” specified under Executive Law § 626 (1). OVS indicates that Victim Assistance Programs (VAPs) are federally funded with a state match, and it emphasized in its regulatory impact statement that it “fund[ed] 228 [VAPs] across New York State, distributing in excess of $35 million to these programs to assist and advocate on behalf of victims and claimants.” The required services provided by the VAPs include, among other things, “assist[ing] victims and/or claimants in completing and submitting OVS applications and assist[ing] claimants through the claim process.” OVS determined that the legislature did not intend that attorneys’ fees incurred in relation to assistance within the scope of services provided by VAPs would be considered reasonable under the statute. Matter of Juarez v New York State Off. of Victim Servs., 2021 NY Slip Op 01091, CtApp 2-18-21