2/28/00 Nat’l L.J. A16, (col. 5)
The National Law Journal
Volume 22, Number 27
Monday, February 28, 2000
BRONX DEFENDERS PEDDLE A MYTH
Michael Z. Letwin
President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys UAW Local 2325 New York
Bronx defenders promotes the myth that its “holistic advocacy” for indigent criminal defendants transcends the allegedly “limited, staid model of intervention” of the Legal Aid Society (LAS), New York’s primary public defender organization [“The best defense…,” Jan. 31].
For 30 years, however, unionized Legal Aid Society attorneys and support staff have fought for and won the kinds of practice for which Bronx Defenders now seeks to take credit, including collaborative and creative advocacy, drug rehabilitation, pre- and post-pleading memorandums, alternatives to incarceration and job placement.
Unlike Bronx Defenders, however, which the city lavishly funds to handle only 12,500 cases, LAS staff represent an unlimited number of clients—more than 200,000 a year in New York at present—with far lower per-case funding. This reflects the Giuliani administration’s retaliation against the LAS and its unions for a brief 1994 strike. Since that time, city funding for the LAS has been slashed from $79 million to $52 million annually. As a result, reported the Indigent Oversight Panel of the Appellate Division, 1st Department, in 1998, the LAS “is handling too many cases with too little staff and too little support….These conditions have, in large measure, been created by the City’s decision to contract with” Bronx Defenders and six other organizations favored by the administration.
Warm and fuzzy feelings at Bronx Defenders and its siblings give their nonunion staff neither power over legal practice nor protection from employer favoritism, arbitrary discipline and firing. By contrast, collective bargaining at the LAS provides unionized lawyers and support staff with the means to defend and improve workload limits, provide continuity (having the same lawyer throughout a case), a fair and uniform pay scale, influence over hiring and promotion decisions, affirmative action, office space, health and safety protections and many other gains directly related to high-quality representation.
No amount of hype can alter the collaboration of Bronx Defenders with Mayor Giuliani’s assault on indigent criminal defense. Bronx Defenders has chosen to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
2/28/00 NLJ A16, (col. 5)