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November 12, 1994

1994.11.12: Giuliani Sends Contract Offer To Legal Aid (NY Times)

NY Times, November 12, 1994

Section: 1

Giuliani Sends Contract Offer To Legal Aid


Six weeks after steamrolling over a strike by staff lawyers for the Legal Aid Society and threatening to stop doing business with them altogether, the Giuliani administration has offered the organization a new contract with strict terms like a no-strike clause, monthly and quarterly audits, a taut budget and creation of a bureau to handle new cases more expeditiously.

Officials for Legal Aid staunchly maintained that the proposed contract, which will pay the Society $62.4 million a year, preserves the nonprofit organization’s standing as the primary representative for the city’s indigent criminal defendants. But the Giuliani administration made it clear that City Hall was keeping its options open.

One clause in the contract gives the city the power to replace parts or all of Legal Aid’s services. In addition, Katie Lapp, the city’s criminal justice coordinator, has said that her office will solicit bids from other lawyers groups, like one in Staten Island, who want to defend the poor.

Officials for the society acknowledged that they had limited leverage in trying to negotiate changes in the contract, which is expected to be signed by year’s end. Michael Iovenko, a banking lawyer whose term as president of the society ends next week, said his strongest argument was that while Legal Aid needs the city, the city also needs Legal Aid. The city has a constitutional obligation to provide indigent defendants with lawyers; alternatives to Legal Aid, he said, would be more costly.

Particular elements of the two-year contract, he said, were troublesome. One clause asks the management of Legal Aid to insure that employees do not strike, not only during the term of the contract but after it has run out — a requirement that some labor lawyers characterized as possibly an unfair labor practice.

 Michael Z. Letwin, the president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, the lawyers’ union, said he had not yet seen the 77-page contract proposal, which which city officials gave to Society management on Thursday afternoon, but that he did not believe that a no-strike clause could be sustained.

“The city had said before that they were not seeking a no-strike pledge from us,” he said. “I don’t think this will fly legally or practically.”

But Ms. Lapp, emphasizing that the contract was with management, not the union, said that if the union ever struck, “The contract would provide us with the capability of stopping their funds, seeking other services, and getting reimbursement for those funds.”

The new contract also requires Legal Aid to set aside lawyers to handle only arraignments, the initial court proceedings where defendants enter pleas and have bail hearings. Under the law, if defendants are not arraigned within 24 hours of being arrested, the case must be dismissed. A separate cadre of lawyers would expedite such cases, said Ms. Lapp, who added that Los Angeles had a similar program.

Under the new system, the defendants would be reassigned to new Legal Aid lawyers before their next court date.

But Thomas R. Brome, a corporate lawyer who will become the society’s new president next week, said such an arrangement would break up Legal Aid’s philosophy of continuity of representation, where one lawyer stays with a client from the beginning to the end of a case.

The issue is critical in felony cases, he said, “so we will push back on it.”

Still looming, and still unresolved, are the deep budget cuts that Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said last month that he would impose on Legal Aid, with no reduction in its caseload. Indeed, the city, concerned about Legal Aid’s productivity, is asking in the proposed contract for regular audits.

Earlier this week, the society offered the city a proposal to reorganize its own ranks, in part by laying off a third of its middle managers. Another third of the managers would take pay cuts and become staff lawyers. No staff lawyers would be laid off, officials said, although some clerical workers would be cut.

But even if the Legal Aid plan, which includes buyouts and give-backs from the union, is implemented, it would shrink last year’s budget for criminal defense and appeals lawyers by only $9 million, not the $12.5 million that the Mayor had demanded.

What is certain is that by the end of the year, the structure and leadership of Legal Aid will have changed dramatically. The society has proposed that lawyers work in teams, consulting on strategies and covering for each other when court dates conflict.

And early next week the society is expected to announce a new executive director and attorney in chief, the position held by Archibald R. Murray since 1975. Last spring, Mr. Murray announced he would be leaving the post to become chairman of the board of the Society.

An article yesterday about the Giuliani administration’s proposal for a new contract with the Legal Aid Society misstated a court procedure. Defendants who are not arraigned within 24 hours of their arrest are released to be arraigned later; their cases are not dismissed.


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