Legal Aid Calls for Salary Parity With Corp. Counsel at City Budget Hearing; Defenders Kick Off Parity Campaign for Equal Pay With City Lawyers

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The Legal Aid Society called on the New York City Council today to prioritize public defender pay parity with Corporation Counsel – the lawyers who represent the City – in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Legal Aid testified on this issue earlier at a joint budget hearing held by the Council’s Committee on Justice and the Committee on Public Safety.

Last October, the City Council examined the pay disparity between public defenders and City lawyers. Representatives from defender organizations and their staff shared personal stories about how the lack of parity undercuts the ability to pursue careers serving the public; the ability to raise a family locally; and how it also sends the message to defenders that their work and mandate is less important than that of the job performed by their adversaries.

According to a Legal Aid analysis of Corporation Counsel’s pay scale, that office can pay their attorneys with ten years’ experience an estimated annual salary between $95,000 and $108,000, which is significantly higher than defenders’ ability to pay their staff with the same experience level.

Moreover, Legal Aid reviewed retention rates of its Criminal Defense Practice attorneys who were hired between 2007 and 2017, and discovered that, as the years of service and experience of staff increased, the rate of retention decreased, with the largest percentages of staff leaving between their fifth and tenth year of service. By the tenth year, essentially half of that year’s hiring class – nearly 48 percent – had departed for other employers. Brief reviews of Legal Aid’s Civil and Juvenile Practices revealed a similar trend, with lawyers exiting to jobs in City and State government.

“Each and every day, our staff works relentlessly in courts and in communities on behalf of New York’s most vulnerable. But for far too long, they have been working at a financial disadvantage compared to the City lawyers who appear opposite them,” said Janet Sabel, CEO and Attorney-In-Chief of The Legal Aid Society. “This inequality in pay deprives our staff of a sustainable living wage, impeding their ability to pursue careers as defenders. It’s time to correct this and to ensure that staff on the front line receive fair compensation to continue to represent New York’s historically marginalized communities.”

Pay parity is not just an issue for defenders in New York City but a national issue facing offices around the country in Oregon, California, Georgia, and other states.

To follow this campaign on social media, search by the #PayParityNow and #NoJusticeWithoutUs hashtags.

Queens Chronicle: DNA front and center at Vetrano murder retrial

Chanel Lewis in court last week for jury selection.

Chanel Lewis in court last week for jury selection.

By Michael Shain
March 18, 2019

Less than four months after a hung jury, a Queens prosecutor today told the jury at the Howard Beach jogger murder trial that the evidence against her accused killer is “overwhelming.”

Chanel Lewis, dressed in a dark gray suit and all-but-silent during the opening of his second trial, showed no sign of emotion as the prosecutor, Brad Leventhal, outlined the case against the 22-year-old Brooklyn loner.

Leventhal’s 110-minute opening statement meticulously laid out how DNA evidence had been gathered and analyzed and how cops linked Lewis’ genetic profile to traces of DNA on victim Karina Vetrano’s cell phone and the skin on her neck after she’d been strangled to death.

In the first trial, Lewis’ lawyers made the quality and character of the DNA evidence the centerpiece of his defense. The jury for the second trial is made up of seven women and five men. There appear to be more jurors over the age of 35 than on the first jury.

The racial makeup of the jury is seven whites, three blacks and two Asians.

Jenny Cheung, one of Lewis’ Legal Aid Society lawyers, told the jury to question the DNA evidence since there were no fingerprints, hair or bodily fluid found at the scene to account for how the genetic evidence got there in the first place.

The trial is expects to last three to four weeks.

Queens Daily Eagle: Jury Hears Opening Statements in Retrial Of Chanel Lewis

By David Brand and Jonathan Sperling
March 18, 2019

A 12-person jury of Queens residents — six men and six women — heard opening statements Monday in the retrial of Chanel Lewis, the man accused of killing Karina Vetrano as she jogged near her Howard Beach home on Aug. 2, 2016. Lewis’ first trial ended in a split jury in November 2018.

Lewis, 22, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse — on which the first-degree murder charge is predicated — for allegedly attacking Vetrano during a random encounter on a secluded trail in Spring Creek Park.

The key figures remain the same for the retrial: Assistant District Attorneys Brad Leventhal and Michael Curtis are prosecuting the case and Justice Michael Aloise continues to stand and pace behind the bench, again wearing a purple tie.

Defense attorney Jenny Cheung sat beside Lewis, with Robert Moeller and Julia Burke completing the Legal Aid Society defense team.

The demographics of the 12-person jury and the three juror alternates have changed significantly, however. The jurors are much older on average than in the first trial, where the majority of jurors seemed younger than 40.

The jury is also majority white this time around, compared to just a handful of white jurors last time.

The foreman, who scowled throughout opening statements, is a retired law enforcement officer, according to a person familiar with jury selection.

“I haven’t been in court but I’ve heard it looks like they can be fair,” Karina Vetrano’s father Phil Vetrano, who testified at the first trial about finding his daughter’s body, wrote on his GoFundMe page Monday morning. “We were blindsided the last time. How neiva [sic] to think the evidence is all you need.”

Vetrano’s mother Cathie Vetrano will likely testify for the first time this week, Leventhal said.

Leventhal spoke for roughly 1 hour and 50 minutes as he laid out the case against Lewis, which is based on confessions that Lewis gave detectives and prosecutors and DNA evidence found on Vetrano’s neck, nails and cellphone. Leventhal was less dramatic than during his opening and closing statements in the first trial when he pantomimed punches and dropped to the floor to simulate the killing.

After getting home from work, Vetrano headed into Spring Creek Park for a short run that early August evening, he told the jurors.

“It was a run from which she’d never return,” Leventhal said before describing how a “young, attractive, vibrant, full of life young lady was viciously and savagely attacked.”

Lewis, dressed in a charcoal three-piece suit and black bow tie, leaned forward as Leventhal walked across the courtroom and pointed to him.

“He attacked her, pummeled her, punched her,” Leventhal said. “Breaking, cracking, fracturing her front teeth” while “placing his knees like a catcher on her chest.

Leventhal explained that Vetrano’s clothing was in disarray and accused Lewis of sexually abusing Vetrano, motivated by lust and his own “sexual gratification.”

Leventhal also addressed issues raised by the defense during the first trial, including crime scene contamination and the chain of custody of evidence removed from the crime scene. During the first trial, the defense cast doubt on the trace amount of DNA evidence found on Vetrano’s body and cellphone and described how the DNA could have been introduced by one of the dozens of cops and other first-responders who arrived at the scene.

Cheung, a DNA expert, delivered the opening statement for the defense and urged jurors to keep an open mind. Cheung asked them to scrutinize the prosecution’s case, from the crime scene investigation to the circumstances of Lewis’ two videotaped confessions.

“Tunnel vision clouds judgement,” she said, adding that the prosecutors were trying to “put a square peg in a round hole” to fit a narrative.

The prosecution’s case relied on “a series of assumptions and guesses” made at the crime scene, she continued. Investigators immediately saw the state of Vetrano’s clothing — her sports bra was pulled below her breasts and her running shorts were pulled off one leg — and determined that she had been sexually abused by a lone suspect, she said.

“Their decisions and actions affected everyone down the chain,” Cheung said. “The narrative generated on the first night of this case dictated their actions.”

AMNY: Karina Vetrano murder suspect 'squeezed until she was dead,' prosecutor says

Chanel Lewis, right, sits with his defense team during his retrial Monday for allegedly killing Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano. Photo Credit: Pool/ULI SEIT

Chanel Lewis, right, sits with his defense team during his retrial Monday for allegedly killing Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano. Photo Credit: Pool/ULI SEIT

By Anthony M. DeStefano
March 19, 2019

A Queen prosecutor told jurors Monday that the Brooklyn man being retried in the death of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano in 2016 grabbed her by the neck and “squeezed and squeezed until she was dead.”

During a nearly two-hour opening statement in Queens Supreme Court, Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal said the Aug. 2, 2016, strangulation of Vetrano, 30, followed a chance encounter with an angry Chanel Lewis, 22, as she jogged in Spring Creek Park.

In opening statement in Queens Supreme Court, Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal during a nearly two-hourThe Aug. 2, 2016, strangulation of Vetrano, 30, followed a chance encounter with an angry Chanel Lewis, 22, as she jogged in Spring Creek Park, said .

“This was a crime of opportunity, a crime of random, senseless violence,” Leventhal told the six men and six women on the jury. “This crime was born of misdirected anger, fueled by lust and [desire] for sexual satisfaction."

Lewis is being retried on murder and sexual abuse charges in connection with Vetrano's killing. The first trial ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict. The first panel voted 7-5 in favor of conviction, according to persons briefed at the time on jury deliberations.

Vetrano’s parents, Catherine and Philip, are expected to testify Tuesday about the day of their daughter's fateful jog and how the speech pathologist's father discovered her body in the park weeds. The case is before Supreme Court Judge Michael Aloise.

Lewis' defense attorney Jenny Cheung, of the Legal Aid Society, addressed the jurors for less than 20 minutes and reiterated a theme she used in the first trial: Police were in a rush to find a defendant for the widely publicized killing and committed mistakes that led them to Lewis.

NYPD investigators, Cheung said, implicated Lewis by trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole” with their evidence — an argument she made during her first opening statement in November.

“This case is about how tunnel vision clouds judgement,” Cheung said.

Police took Lewis into custody in February 2017 after the DNA sample he voluntarily submitted matched genetic material found on Vetrano’s neck, fingernails and cell phone, officials said. Lewis also gave investigators two confessions, investigators said after his arrest — one to detectives and another a few hours later to prosecutors.

Lewis, of East New York, was disturbed by what Leventhal described as a trivial incident at his home and left to be by himself with a walk through the park. It was then, Leventhal said, that Lewis “saw red” as he came across an unsuspecting Vetrano as she jogged, and attacked her. He chased Vetrano, Leventhal told the jury, pummeling and finally choking the life out of her.

“She tried to run for her life from him,” Leventhal said, adding that one of her running shoes was found 130 feet from her body.

In the first trial, the defense suggested Lewis’s confessions were coerced, the crime scene not properly handled, and the DNA evidence ambiguous, or as Cheung said Monday “not open and closed.” However, in his opening for the second trial, Leventhal addressed those issues.

The prosecutor told jurors Vetrano’s cell phone was protected by investigators after it was found in the park weeds, her body was guarded, and her hands were bagged to prevent contamination or loss of evidence. He also said that in the 12 hours before Lewis confessed, he was offered food, water and bathroom breaks.

Leventhal also described how experts and doctors from the Office of the City Medical Examiner would testify, as they did in the first trial, about how the DNA found on Vetrano’s neck and cell phone was a match to Lewis’ sample. He added that the genetic material under Vetrano's fingernails showed a high likelihood of being a mix of her and Lewis’ DNA.

Cheung at one point drew a prosecution objection, sustained by Aloise, when she suggested the Vetrano case was handled differently because the victim's family knew a high-ranking NYPD chief.

The first prosecution witness was NYPD Det. Tim Gentz ,who described finding Vetrano’s cell phone yards from her body. Gentz recalled hearing Philip Vetrano’s cries when he found her body.

“One of the loudest screams,” said Gentz.

Bkylner: New Law Recognizes Racial Bias When Identifying Witnesses

Otis Boone and Lavonda Allen Photo compliments of The Legal Aid Society.

Otis Boone and Lavonda Allen Photo compliments of The Legal Aid Society.

By Kadia Goba
March 18, 2019

New York courts institute a “cross-race identification” rule after a wrongfully convicted Brooklyn man serves seven years in prison, partially because witnesses misidentified the then-19-year-old.

At his second trial, a jury found African-American Otis Boone, 27, not guilty of two separate first-degree robberies. Courts originally sentenced Boone for stealing the cell phones of two white men. Evidence submitted, at the second trial, showed Boone used a government ID card nearly a mile away when the robberies took place.

Both men misidentified Boone in a police lineup, prompting the Court of Appeals to issue a new rule that requires New York Courts to instruct juries of the unreliability of eyewitnesses when their race differs from the accused.

“Unfortunately, this kind of negligence in eyewitness identification is not unique and demonstrates the profound recklessness of the NYPD to investigate arrests made solely on identification testimony, which we now know is the greatest source of wrongful convictions,” said Bess Stiffelman, Staff Attorney with the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

Both witnesses had seconds to view the accused. Police were aware of the possible identification discrepancy but did not investigate.

Court documents say social scientists have found that the chances a witness misidentifies are higher when identification is cross-racial. Generally, people have greater difficulty accurately identifying members of other races.

Psychologists call the phenomenon “cross-race effect” or “own-race bias.”

“Mr. Boone is one of countless innocent suspects misidentified by an eyewitness — a problem exacerbated when the witness and suspect are not the same race,” Karen A. Newirth, Senior Staff Attorney at the Strategic Litigation at The Innocence Project. “Indeed, of the 364 wrongful convictions established by DNA, 70 percent involved eyewitness misidentification.”

In addition, NYPD ignored Boone’s request for a lawyer during his lineup, which representatives of LAS said would have ensured fairness. Detectives also ignored Boone’s request to call his uncle to identify his whereabouts during the time of the robbery. Boone was at the time living with his uncle in East New York.

“The detective merely proceeded with the lineup, placed Boone under arrest, and closed the case,” the Legal Aid Society spokesperson Redmond Haskins said.

Patch: White Witnesses' ID Led To 8 Years For Wrongfully Convicted Teen


By Kathleen Culliton
March 18, 2019

Otis Boone spent eight years in prison because the evidence of two white people, who said a black man robbed them from behind, was enough to land a teenager with a 25-year sentence, Legal Attorneys argued Monday.

"This kind of negligence in eyewitness identification is not unique," said Legal Aid Society attorney Bess Stiffelman.

"[It] demonstrates the profound recklessness of the NYPD to investigate arrests made solely on identification testimony, which we now know is the greatest source of wrongful convictions."

Boone, 27, was called a "thug" by local news outlets when he was arrested in March 2011 on charges that he went on a "one-man crime spree" in Midwood the month before.

The Brooklyn teen, then 19, was denied an attorney and a phone call to his uncle and put in a line-up next to other men he did not closely resemble, his Legal Aid attorneys argued.

The identifications from two witnesses, one of whom told police he would not be able to recognize his attacker, drew praise from the Brooklyn precinct's commanding officer.

"We couldn't draw a better picture," a 63rd Precinct captain told the New York Post at the time. "As soon as the witnesses saw it, they said, 'That's the guy!'"

But it wasn't the guy. Boone was acquitted earlier this month after Legal Aid Society prosecutors successfully argued in the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, that the "cross-race effect" would have made it impossible for them identify him with complete certainty.

And Innocence Project data shows 70 percent of 364 U.S. convictions overturned with DNA evidence since 1992 involved misidentifications. About half of those cases involved witnesses of a different race than the suspect.

In 2017, New York Appellate Court judges granted Boone a retrial and ordered that, in future, New York judges explain the "cross-race effect" to jurors in a mandate often called "The Boone Rule."

During Boone's second trial in February, Legal Aid society presented new evidence — government records that showed he used his Electronic Benefits Card about a mile away from one of the robberies minutes before it happened — and he was acquitted in March.

"The mandatory cross-race jury instruction established by the Court of Appeals in Mr. Boone's case will serve as an important protection against wrongful conviction for criminal defendants, as it did here for Mr. Boone," said Karen Newirth of The Innocence Project. "While Mr. Boone can never get back the 7 years he served in prison, we are so happy that he is now free."

Boone plans to sue the city for false arrest and malicious prosecution, court records show.

Politico: Public defenders say city shortchanges them for representing vulnerable New Yorkers

By Joe Anuta

The city should bake more money into its contracts so public defenders are paid similarly to attorneys in the city's Law Department, the Legal Aid Society plans to argue at a Tuesday budget hearing.

The nonprofit, along with a number of other organizations, has long said that the stagnant pay doled out through city contracts has made it hard to retain talent to represent some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, even while prosecutors on the other side of the courtroom have received extra money from city coffers.

In the upcoming budget, district attorneys' offices are set to receive millions of dollars to match the pay of their prosecutors to the levels of the city's in-house legal team, who sit at the top of the public practice food chain. To try and rectify an even greater mismatch with public defenders, Legal Aid plans to encourage city council members to add up to $15 million in this year's budget to boost the organization's bottom line and better pay staff.

"This inequality in pay deprives our staff of a sustainable living wage, impeding their ability to pursue careers as defenders," Janet Sabel, head of the nonprofit legal firm, said in a statement. "It's time to correct this and to ensure that staff on the front line receive fair compensation to continue to represent New York's historically marginalized communities."

Each year, the city inks contracts with nonprofit public defender organizations to provide the types of representation guaranteed by the Constitution, such as a lawyer for criminal defense — as well as for additional initiatives from the de Blasio administration, such as its recent effort to help tenants in housing court. However, a City Council report from last year found that public defenders often make less when compared to prosecutors in district attorneys' offices and the city's corporation counsel. And if public defenders aren't paid enough to live and pay off student loans, Legal Aid attorney Tina Luongo argued, they will exit the profession for higher-paying gigs and leave the remaining lawyers overburdened with caseloads. Legal Aid alone has shed 65 senior attorneys since last fiscal year, she said.

The Council's report from last year also noted that public defender organizations are responsible for overhead costs, such as renting space, that most district attorneys and corporation counsels are not. However, the Council also found that the highest-paid attorneys at the corporation-counsel level had the lowest retention rate of the three classes of public attorneys.

"This suggests that pay parity may not be the magic bullet to retain experienced attorneys at the district attorney's offices and public defender offices," the report noted.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Lawsuits Against Queens Cops Cost City Nearly $1.5 Million Since 2015, Database Reveals

By David Brand
March 18, 2019

More than 130 federal civil rights lawsuits filed against Queens cops in recent years have so far resulted in verdicts and settlements totaling $1,475,001, according to a database of federal lawsuits against the NYPD compiled by The Legal Aid Society. The payouts range from a few thousand dollars to a $305,000 jury verdict in a Laurelton police brutality case.

The database, known as CAPstat, used publicly available information to pull back the curtain on allegations of NYPD officer misconduct and excessive use of force, revealing how improper behavior by officers has injured individuals, alienated communities of color and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements.

“Transparency and accountability around police misconduct are two of the most important issues we face in the fight for criminal justice reform today,” said Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards in a statement praising the initiative. “While the toll police misconduct takes on our families and communities weighs the heaviest, it also hits our city’s wallet hard as well and the more information available, the better we all can be at addressing patterns of abuse and neglect.”

Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law shields officers’ disciplinary records from release and review, so to shine some light on allegations against NYPD officers, Legal Aid compiled federal civil rights lawsuits that were filed between January 2015 and June 2018.

The database does not analyze the lawsuits, it merely compiles them, Legal Aid wrote in a disclaimer accompanying CAPstat. New York Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch condemned the database for that reason.

“An overwhelming number of lawsuits against police officers are meritless claims filed for nuisance value in hopes of a quick payout from the city,” Lynch said in a statement.

“Not all lawsuits filed for money have legal merit,” an NYPD spokesperson said in an email. “The ones that do can be valuable tools we use to improve officer performance and enhance training or policy where necessary. The Legal Aid Society’s own disclaimer says they can’t vouch for the accuracy, credibility or reliability of the data.”

There were 2,326 total civil rights lawsuits filed against the NYPD between January 2015 and June 2018, of which 790 settled for $53,790,898, according to the database.

The majority of the 131 lawsuits filed against cops from Queens’ 16 police precincts are still pending. Most were filed by people of color who claimed they were improperly arrested, searched or injured by NYPD officers.

Among Queens’ 16 police precincts, officers from the 105th Precinct in eastern Queens cost the city the most money in settlements: $349,500 from two settlements and a trial verdict, according to the database. Ten other cases associated with the 105th Precinct are pending and one was dismissed. The 105th covers Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Queens Village and several other eastern Queens neighborhoods.

Most of that total comes from a $305,000 jury verdict in favor of Ivan Benjamin, an African-American man who was dragged from his car and beaten by two officers during a traffic stop on Conduit Avenue in Laurelton, according to the complaint filed in federal court for the Southern District of New York.

Benjamin’s fiancee and her daughter were sitting in the car when the officers pulled Benjamin out, punched him and bashed him in the head, inflicting a traumatic brain injury that resulted in a seizure disorder, the complaint states.

The verdict, which includes attorney fees, was the highest amount awarded in a case involving Queens cops.

Attorney Fred Lichtmacher represented Benjamin in that case and told the Eagle he was surprised there have not been more large settlements or verdicts involving Queens cops.

“There are weekend nights I’ve been in arraignments in Queens and it looks like a triage unit because there are so many people injured,” Lichtmacher said. “Why is that?”

In total, officers from the 105th Precinct were hit with 14 federal lawsuits between 2015 and 2018 — the third most in the borough.

The 103rd Precinct and the 113th Precinct racked up the majority of federal lawsuits in Queens, with 22 each between 2015 and 2018. Most are still pending.

The 113th Precinct’s four settlements total $116,000. One lawsuit was dismissed and 17 others are pending. The precinct includes part of Jamaica and Hollis as well as St. Albans and South Ozone Park.

The 103rd Precinct’s six settlements total $242,001. Sixteen other lawsuits are pending. The precinct includes parts of Jamaica and Hollis.

The most expensive settlement associated with the 103rd Precinct totaled $97,000.

In that case, roughly a dozen officers arrived at the Jamaica home of Terrance Tippins on July 5, 2014 and asked to enter, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court for the Eastern District of New York. The officers did not have a warrant and Tippins refused to let them enter his house. When Tippins’ sister Shantell Tippins arrived at the house, officers told her they were responding to a 911 call about a man in need of medical attention who had entered the home. Tippins opened the door to let his sister inside and again refused to let the officers enter without a warrant.

The officers grabbed Tippins from his home, threw him down the front steps and pressed him into the concrete, breaking his orbital bone, according to the complaint. When Shantell Tippins objected, the cops grabbed her and dragged her down the steps until neighbors informed the officers that she was pregnant, the complaint continues.

Officers brought Terrence Tippins, Shantell Tippins and her son to the precinct, where they charged Terrance Tippins with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The city also settled for $200,000 with Himen Ross, a Bronx resident who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly shooting a 16-year-old to death in Rockaway and spent six years on Rikers Island awaiting trial. He was found not guilty by a jury and sued the city, claiming the officers from the 101st Precinct obtained false testimony from a witness in order to indict him, according to the complaint filed in federal court for the Eastern District of New York.

Two Queens precincts, the 107th and the 112th, have not been associated with any settlements, according to the database. There are four lawsuits pending against officers from the 107th and five pending against officers from the 112th.

Citywide, the most expensive case in the database is a $13 million settlement with Antonio Yarbrough, who was wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide in 1992 and locked up for 20 years. Yarbrough and a co-defendant were exonerated in 2014 after the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit moved to vacate their convictions based on DNA evidence.

The third most expensive case in the database is a $4 million settlement with NBA player Thabo Sefolosha, a black Swedish citizen assaulted by NYPD officers from Manhattan’s 10th Precinct outside the elite 1 Oak club in April 2015. Sefolosha suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments when several cops jumped on him after investigating a reported stabbing in the club, according to court documents.

Sefolosha was not involved with the stabbing. He was charged with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

We Demand #PayParityNow on This Public Defenders Day

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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.

WSJ: Judge Rules Against Trump Policy on Green Cards


By Corinne Ramey
March 16, 2019

A federal judge ruled late Friday that the Trump administration broke the law by denying a path to a green card for abused, abandoned and neglected young illegal immigrants in New York state.

Illegal immigrants under age 21 were once regularly awarded what is known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which allowed them to obtain a green card. Early last year, federal immigration authorities began denying this status to immigrants 18 through 20 years old.

Last June, attorneys from the Legal Aid Society and law firm Latham and Watkins LLP sought class-action status for a lawsuit challenging what they said was an abrupt policy change. One plaintiff was beaten by relatives in Haiti. Another went to live with family in the U.S. after gang threats in El Salvador.

In the Friday ruling, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl said such a policy change must come from Congress, not immigration authorities. He granted class status to the plaintiffs and instructed the lawyers to propose ways for implementing his decision.

Beth Krause, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society, said the ruling gives her clients and other young people a pathway to permanent residence. “It will help potentially thousands of kids in New York regularize their status,” she said.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment. The agency has previously said its policies are in line with state and federal law.