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November 15, 1994

1994.11.15: Amid Turmoil, Legal Aid Names New Top Executive (NY Times)

November 15, 1994

Amid Turmoil, Legal Aid Names New Top Executive


With its future darkened both by deep budget cuts and a possible loss in status as the city’s chief legal representative of the poor, the Legal Aid Society announced yesterday the appointment of a new top administrator, the first change in that position in nearly 20 years.

Daniel L. Greenberg, 49, director of the clinical education program at Harvard Law School, will assume the role of executive director and attorney in chief, the post held since 1975 by Archibald R. Murray.

Mr. Murray, 61, said last spring that he would become chairman of the board of the Legal Aid Society.

He leaves the daily operation of Legal Aid at a difficult time. After managers voted themselves pay raises last summer and a strike by staff lawyers last month, the Giuliani administration has proposed cutting money to the Society’s criminal defense and appeals division by about 16 percent. Last week City Hall offered Legal Aid a contract with a no-strike clause and requirements for reorganization.

City Hall officials were not available for comment on Mr. Greenberg’s appointment.

“I suppose the analogy is to running into a theater just after someone has yelled fire,” said Mr. Greenberg of the timing of his new job. “This will be a hard time for clients, with some bad news within the organization, but the Legal Aid Society has been around for a long time. I’m supremely confident it will continue in a place of pre-eminence in the city.”

Stephen Myers, a managing attorney of MFY Legal Services in Chinatown, said of his former colleague of 16 years: “I thought Danny was nuts to apply, but he thinks of it as a fantastic opportunity.”

Mr. Greenberg will take the reins in a part-time capacity today, and is expected to be full time by the beginning of the year.

He was a popular, eloquent fixture in New York’s public-interest legal circles before going to Harvard in 1987. “If anyone can charm Rudy Giuliani, Danny Greenberg can,” said Abbe Smith, an associate of Mr. Greenberg’s at Harvard.

Mr. Greenberg was also a longtime managing attorney at MFY, a federally financed program that provides representation to the poor in civil matters. He is a past president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, an association of progressive lawyers.

While Legal Aid represents the indigent in a wide variety of matters, its biggest responsibility is in criminal defense, an area in which Mr. Greenberg has not practiced. That void does not seem to be giving great pause to the people with whom Mr. Greenberg will be working.

“He has spent his life in legal services and has a tremendous reputation for his commitment and leadership,” said Michael Z. Letwin, the president of the union. “We can’t think of anyone we’d rather have lead the society.”

Mr. Murray, the outgoing chief of the society, reflected yesterday about what he considered his achievements during his 19 years there. He said that he had improved workplace conditions for staff lawyers, which he said had been substandard.

“I have no regrets,” he said. Addressing the Society’s current problems, he said, “I wish it hadn’t happened but it has. We’ll grapple with it.”

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