Lawyers at Legal Aid Picket For Day to Show Frustration
Legal Aid Society lawyers struck the New York City courts for a single day yesterday in a display of frustration over the lawyers’ roles as advocates for the poor.
Court officials said the disruption caused by the strike was minimal, partly because the lawyers are expected to return to work today.
Legal Aid supervisors and private lawyers handled many routine matters and some cases were postponed. A light volume in the city’s Criminal Courts also helped yesterday, said Mary de Bourbon, the spokeswoman for the Office of Court Administration.
After nearly seven months of negotations since the contract for 1,000 Legal Aid lawyers lapsed on June 30, the society’s management and the striking lawyers were not even agreeing yesterday about the issues separating them or the possibility of future disruptions in the courts. Striking to Send Message
“In a nutshell, it’s about respect,” Sonja White, a striking lawyer, said outside the Criminal Court building on Centre Street in Manhattan. She echoed the sentiments of many of her colleagues by saying that they were striking to send a message that the society is not as strong as it ought to be in working to assure the quality of representation given to poor people.
Archibald R. Murray, the executive director of the society, said the issues were basically financial. He said the lawyers’ assertion that the society had become too passive reflected a misperception of the purpose of the society.
Mr. Murray said the society’s role is to provide legal services, and not to function as a political organization.
Michael Z. Letwin, the president of the union that represents the lawyers, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, said other one-day strikes and a full-scale strike remain possible. Negotiations to Continue
Mr. Murray said that negotiations are scheduled to continue and that further job actions are unlikely.
The courts depend heavily on Legal Aid lawyers because the law requires that defendants facing time in jail who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer must be provided with one. Under a contract with the city, Legal Aid lawyers handle more than half of the criminal cases involving indigent defendants in New York City.
Because the society is a private organization, its lawyers are not covered by the Taylor law, which forbids strikes by public employees.
On the picket lines yesterday, many of the lawyers said they resented management’s casting of the dispute in financial terms.
Mr. Murray said the society disagrees with its lawyers about what issues are appropriate for bargaining. He said many of the nonsalary issues raised by the union, like better law libraries, would also take money.
The union, whose lawyers are paid from $29,000 to $60,000, asked for a 15 percent pay rise. Mr. Letwin said yesterday that the real issue is whether the society, which receives most of its financing from the city, will match the 3.5 percent raise won by several of the municipal unions.
The society has offered a 1.5 percent increase. But with cuts in health benefits, the union calculated that offer as a 1 percent cut.
Photo: Legal Aid Society lawyers picketing outside the Criminal Court building on Centre Street yesterday. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)