New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW Local 2325), 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, and others held a press conference and rally at City Hall today urging New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to prioritize defender and civil legal services staff salary parity with City lawyers in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
The legal services organizations called on the Mayor to appropriate $50 million to the cause, which builds on the City Council’s $15 million funding recommendation in this year’s budget response. This allocation is for attorneys in not just criminal court, but for all lawyers representing indigent New Yorkers at defender/legal services organizations in immigration, housing, employment, and many other legal matters.
Last June, the City Council allocated a combined $15 million to local District Attorney offices to address the disparity in pay between prosecutors and Corporation Counsel – lawyers who represent the City. The Legal Aid Society and other indigent defense organizations received no such allotment.
Indigent legal services attorneys have long lagged behind District Attorneys and assistant Corporation Counsel in terms of pay and benefits, despite being equal officers of the court, and the direct adversaries of City lawyers.
To follow this campaign on social media, search by the #PayParityNow and #NoJusticeWithoutUs hashtags.
“Our staff works tirelessly to defend New Yorkers on a range of legal matters across the city each day. This is critical work, and the City must ensure that staff are being compensated at a wage commensurate with what their courtroom adversaries earn,” said Janet Sabel, CEO and Attorney-In-Chief of The Legal Aid Society. “The Legal Aid Society stands in solidarity with New York’s other defender and civil legal services organizations as well as the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys and SEIU199 urging City Hall to close the pay parity divide once and for all.”
Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams said, “I have seen for years, up close, the incredible work that public defenders are doing on behalf of New Yorkers in need of legal aid, especially in low-income areas. Those who are defending the people of our city deserve the same resources as those who are defending the City itself, and I'm proud to stand and call for just treatment for the people who stand for justice for New Yorkers, and call for Pay Parity Now.”
“Public defenders and legal services attorneys are on the front lines of our justice system, and yet for too long they have been paid dramatically less than their counterparts in the City Law Department and District Attorney offices. Closing this divide is an issue of fairness, not just for the staff and attorneys working to defend the most vulnerable, but for all New Yorkers who care about justice. The status quo isn’t working and it has to change. We need pay parity – now,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.
"Too often in our legal system those who represent and defend the most vulnerable New Yorkers are sidelined. We must strive to show the immense value that staff and attorneys add to their clients' lives, providing real access to justice," said Jared Trujillo, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys - UAW Local 2325. "It is a critical issue of respect for our members and the communities they diligently serve that public defenders and civil legal services staff receive equal compensation to their counterparts across the courtroom."
“Lawyers who represent the city should not be paid more than lawyers who defend its most vulnerable residents," said Matt Knecht, NDS New York Managing Director. "We're seeking comparable compensation that allows our talented and diverse staffs to do the work they love, for the clients they love, in the city they love."
“Public defenders in New York City are some of the best and brightest attorneys in the nation and they perform a vital public function. Yet, indefensibly, these attorneys make markedly less than other city attorneys with equivalent experience-levels,” said Stan Germán, Executive Director of New York County Defender Services. “Our vulnerable clients deserve highly-trained and experienced defense counsel. But it is difficult for young people to remain in this field, and gain the necessary expertise, when their low salaries mean they cannot afford to rent an apartment, pay back student loans, or pay for child care. Public defenders have worked so hard, for so long, on behalf of the most marginalized New Yorkers and to address the inequities of the criminal justice system. It is well past time that they receive pay parity with all other city attorneys.”
“New York City’s public defenders have dedicated their lives to public service, defending some of New York’s most vulnerable residents,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. “All New Yorkers deserve high-quality representation, regardless of their ability to pay for an attorney. But many public defenders struggle to remain in their chosen profession when they can’t make ends meet, cover their ever-rising rents, keep up with student loans, or start a family. New York City must show it values the work of attorneys fighting tirelessly to guarantee justice for their clients, by paying public defenders at a wage equal to all other city attorneys and closing the pay parity divide.”
“Every day, we public defenders stand shoulder to shoulder with our clients, on the front lines of the fight for justice, fairness, and equity. We keep people out of jail, children safely in their homes, roofs over our clients heads, food on their tables, and hard-working immigrants in their communities,” said Justine Olderman, Executive Director of the Bronx Defenders. “Effective public defense is a critical cornerstone of our legal system, but there will never be a truly level playing field for our clients as long as public defenders are paid less and aren't afforded the same dignity and respect as their counterparts."
“Members of 1199SEIU deserve fair, living wages for the work we do supporting our most vulnerable clients. For too long, we have seen the least in wage increases compared to other unionized support staff across the city. The high turnover rate within our membership is also detrimental to the quality of services we provide to our clients. As paralegals, support staff, and social workers, we go beyond legal representation. We do the essential, often unglamorous work that allows the organization to run smoothly and most importantly, support our clients. While the majority of our members are the primary wage earners for their household, 60% of our membership work or have worked a second job to make ends meet. 74% spend more than 30% of their income on rent. This is not sustainable. 1199SEIU calls on the city to fully fund the necessary $30 million to commit to the services provided for low-income clients and to ensure that the service providers themselves are able to support themselves doing work that we love. We are a dedicated workforce whose contribution and care should not go unrecognized. Pay parity for all, pay parity now,” said Members of 1199SEIU at The Legal Aid Society.