New York Law Journal, May 31, 1990
LAW GUARDIANS’ CONTRACT SPARKS HEATED BATTLE
AS THE DEADLINE nears for the Office of Court Administration to award a lucrative contract for the law guardian program in the city’s Family Courts, a battle between the two competitors has intensified.
For nearly 30 years, the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division has been the only agency providing law guard-ian services. For the past five years, Lawyers for Children — an office of 10 professionals and four support staff — has handled voluntary foster-care placement cases for OCA. The two are now vying for the law guardian contract worth $17 million annually and Legal Aid is not taking the fight lightly.
Law guardians appear as advocates for minors charged in juvenile delinquency and Persons In Need of Supervision (PINS) proceedings and to represent interests of children in child protective proceedings.
If any portion of the contract is awarded to Lawyers for Children, warned Lenore Gittis, attorney-incharge of the Juvenile Rights Division, there could be serious repercussions for the division’s 211 employees, including possible cuts in the 122 attorneys and staff. One weapon the Division is using in the effort to preserve its law guardian con-tract is the issue of affirmative action.
At a news conference on the steps of City Hall and a demonstration by about 100 attorneys and supporters in front of OCA’s headquarters at 270 Broadway yesterday, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys and Local 1199, which represents Legal Aid’s support staff, claimed that OCA is violating Section 312 of the Executive Law. The 1988 law requires state contractors to have affirmative action programs for employee hiring and promotion.
Michael Z. Letwin, president of ALAA, said that since Lawyers for Children has no affirmative action plan, the agency was not entitled to renewal by OCA of its contract in the foster-care area for the past two years and is ineli-gible for consideration for the law guardian contract. As part of its collective bargaining agreement, Legal Aid’s Ju-venile Rights Division has had an affirmative action program for many years, union officials said.
Mr. Letwin also criticized the new open bidding process, saying it lends itself to rewarding the lowest bidder instead of the best qualified bidder, potentially leading to a decline in the quality of representation.
Karen Freedman, managing attorney for Lawyers for Children, said OCA had not imposed an affirmative action requirement as part of its foster-care contract. Although her agency has no written affirmative action policy, she said, it has a “commitment that is put into practice.”
Ms. Freedman said that while none of the five attorneys are racial minorities, four of the five social workers are.
Should Lawyers for Children win the law guardian contract, the agency would have to hire 30-40 attorneys and ad-ditional support staff, and develop a recruitment plan including a written commitment to affirmative action, she said.
Matthew T. Crosson, chief administrator of the courts, said that Section 312 does not apply to the judiciary and therefore exempts OCA from compliance.
However, Mr. Crosson said, since fall 1989, OCA contractors for supplies and equipment have been required to ad-here to the law and awardees of the law guardian contract also will have to comply.