Our justice system is replete with disparities. Assistant District Attorneys, who prosecute cases in Supreme and Criminal Courts, Corporation Counsel attorneys, who represent the City in delinquency cases in Family Court and who defend the City in lawsuits brought against NYPD, the NYC Housing Authority, Administration of Children Services and other government agencies, enjoy court and legal systems that have long been slanted in their favor.
Changes are in motion in Albany to implement dramatic reforms that will create fairness and justice for the clients and communities we serve and we are proud for the role our staff has played in the demand for change.
But the disparities are not merely in the laws, nor do they end at the court house doors. The pay difference between public defenders and public interest attorneys and attorneys paid to represent government is significant. This problem is not new, but it is getting worse and recruiting and retaining experienced and diverse staff simply has become an impossibility.
Every single day, 7 days a week, nearly 24 hours a day, the staff of our defender organizations- attorneys, paralegals, investigators, social workers and managers, come from across the country to fight for racial equity and social justice in our City. To them, being a public defender is a calling, not a job. They are driven to working long hours, under very stressful circumstances, not because they are interested in counting the wins in court. They simply love what they do and who they do it for. They are diverse in identity and lived experiences, and while they are motivated to do this work for a host of reasons, they are unified in their commitment to provide excellent, zealous representation to the people they serve and are often the only person standing between their clients and, frankly, everyone else. But this good work is increasingly in jeopardy as defenders continue to grapple with New York City’s exorbitant cost of living, as well as with their own crushing student loan debt.
On March 18th, the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright and a national celebration of Public Defender Day, The Legal Aid Society is launching a campaign to raise awareness of this pay parity disparity and the fight to obtain the funding necessary to provide our staff compensation deserving of the critical role they play for the communities we serve. There is indeed #NoJusticeWithoutUs, the public defenders of New York City, and it is time for #PayParityNow.