Rally Against Office of Court Administration Attack on Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Division
Michael Letwin, April 30, 1990
OCA decision must be seen in context of broader issues confronting us: attack on quality representation for indigent clients, on equal protection and on the unions.
Quality of representation: OCA’ s threat to quality representation is to make sure that quantity takes precedence over quality.
That’s why it is selling our children to the lowest bidder and why it wants to kill JRD.
No accident that the children it has chosen to sell in New York City are overwhelmingly African American and Latino, the same children who — because of their powerlessness — are being sold out by the worst education, housing, health care and in every other area. But the threat is much broader than that, because as the crack crisis escalates, government has increased the pressure on all divisions to speedup, to “produce,” to “cooperate.”
But assembly line methods lead to assembly line justice. And if we succumb to the assembly line our clients will be right to perceive us as part of an unfair and corrupt system.
Ultimately, the only solution to the crack crisis and the caseload explosion it has produced is to provide jobs, drug treatment programs on demand, education, and a decent quality of life and dignity for everyone, instead of a felony record and a prison cell.
In the meantime, however, let it be known that our unions have will continue to fight against the OCA’s of this world.
Also let there be no confusion about the fact that OCA wants to kill JRD for precisely these reasons.
Given OCA’s lack of concern for quality representation, and its abject union-busting, there is nothing surprising about the fact that it is in defiant violation of legal requirement that all contracting agencies have in place an affirmative action plan for hiring and promotion. This resistance to affirmative action has earned OCA a highly critical report by the judicial commission on minorities — appointed by Judge Wachtler — which found that “the past and present employment patterns of the court system suggest racial and ethnic exclusion” which contributes to “the perception that the new york state court system discriminates on the basis of race.”
Let no one think, however, that any of our criticism of OCA reflects satisfaction with the record of legal aid management. All too often, legal aid management is happy to comply with sacrifices of quality, to tell us that there is no choice: quota in the Criminal Appeals Bureau; arraignment speedup in the Criminal Defense Division, caseloads in Bronx civil, or in other areas such as a refusal to support third time bar retakers. But our unions have always fought management to secure an adequate quality of representation for our clients:
*Struck for and won vertical representation and continuity in 1970s.
*Filed office-wide caseload grievances in CDD and division-wide in JRD: won limit on load, where necessary withdrawal from arraignment/intake.
We have always stood for the principle that affirmative action is the business of every union and every union member, for the failure to hire, promote and respect people of color at the society deprives us of the abilities of minority attorneys pits union members against each other, and reinforces the widely-held view that we are simply part and parcel of a judicial system that is characterized by racial injustice.
Let management be on notice that all of these and other issues — such health & safety, decent wages, a meaningful layoffs clause and gay and lesbian rights — will be a central issue in this year’s contract bargaining.
Management has also engaged in union busting, e.g., 1982 strike and since that time.
We must also recognize, however, that for all the problems at legal aid, we have won victories in quality of representation, affirmative action, and against union busting precisely because union members have fought to achieve them, that without our unions, we would be helpless to fight for further justice in this, or any struggle.
Finally, whatever happens with the OCA contract, we should remember the important lessons that this battle – – including JRD — has for bargaining. That:
1. Power (OCA/Legal Aid Society management) responds only to power.
2. United we stand, divided we fall: especially re 1199/ALAA, but also more broadly: LSSA/Legal Division, NCBL, city unions: DC 37, IBT 237.
3. Union is all of us.