SARATOGA SPRINGS - Not waiting for graduation to start helping people who cannot afford legal counsel, Rylan Richie interned with the Rensselaer County Public Defender Office beginning in her second year at Albany Law School.
In her third year, she received a Con G. Cholakis fellowship, continuing to work in the Rensselaer County office; she also interned at the Schenectady County Public Defender's Office. Hired as an Assistant Public Defender in Albany County after passing the bar - she was admitted to practice in 2009 - Richie began work in Albany County Family Court.
Public defense lawyers in Family Court represent adult respondents - parents accused of abuse or neglect, threatened with loss of custody or visitation, or charged with failure to pay child support. The challenges such representation poses were magnified for Richie in 2011 when short staffing left her and another attorney striving to keep representation at a quality level while dealing with incredible workloads. Albany County Public Defender James P. Milstein, who had just become head of the office, admired the outstanding legal skills, sense of humor and work ethic Richie demonstrated during that difficult period, as did colleagues and judges.
Milstein's admiration for Richie and her work continued beyond the caseload crisis. In nominating her for the Kevin M. Andersen Award presented to her on Monday night, Milstein praised, among many talents, Richie's mentoring ability. Interns generally reluctant to work in Family Court "regularly report at the conclusion of their internships that their most unexpected surprise was how much they learned ...," he said, and "Rylan is the chief reason for these accolades."
Richie has taken on criminal matters as well. In addition to work in one of the county's busiest town courts, she has "second-chaired" serious felony cases involving clients with mental health issues and clients with substantial Family Court histories. Richie's experience allows her "to rapidly acquire important documents and ... communicate with attorneys for children and Children, Youth and Families to develop a more complete understanding of the client's mental state" as well as to interpret records "and provide valuable insight into the upbringing of the client." Understanding a client's life circumstances is key to quality representation.
Richie's capabilities pose only one problem for Milstein he is reluctant to make changes to a Family Court defense team that is working well, but wants to "create an opportunity for an outstanding young attorney to develop her professional skills in both criminal courts and family courts." Regardless of where Richie works, he adds, "I am confident that our clients will receive the finest legal representation."
The Kevin M. Andersen Memorial Award "is presented to an attorney who has been in practice less than fifteen years, practices in the area of indigent defense, and exemplifies the sense of justice, determination, and compassion" that were the hallmarks of its namesake. Kevin M. Andersen was a lifelong public defender known for his anger at injustice, his will to fight ferociously for his clients, and the compassion to grant clients "the dignity each deserved as a human being despite whatever human frailties they might present." The award, created by the Genesee County Public Defender's Office where Andersen worked before his untimely death in 2004, is presented each year at the New York State Defenders Association Annual Conference.
Richie is a class of 2000 graduate of Lake Placid High School.