National Lawyers Guild NYC Notes
Legal Aid Society Sues Giuliani Administration
by Michael Letwin
The Legal Aid Society has sued the Giuliani administration for violating federal, State and city law incontracting out some 9% of the Society’s indigent criminal work to non-union contractors in Queens and Brooklyn, and at both the trial and the appellate level. Still, the administration intends to issue Request for Proposals (RFPs) for more of the Society’s work in the near future.
The administration’s attacks on the Society are express retaliation against the Society and the Association for Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA) for the October, 1994 strike. As Giuliani said last year in inviting bids, establishment of the nonunion agencies “fulfills my commitment made a year ago, when the strike by Legal Aid Society staff attorneys threatened to the operations of our criminal justice system.”
The strikebreaking agencies one of whom is a professional corporation where lawyers are only required to provide indigent defense Services thirty-two hours per week have received multimillion dollar contracts to assume a number of cases, Legal Aid, as the primary provider of indigent defense services, has never had such a cap. In fact, despite a 25% decrease in City funding to Legal Aid over the past two years. There has been no proportionate reduction in cases assigned to the Society. The Giuliani contractors, who are named defendants in the Society’s suit, are coordinating legal strategy with the administration, whose rationale for attacking the Society, ALAA and 1199 (which represents Legal Aid support staff who also struck in October, 1994) they have expressly endorsed.
Thus, for example, legal papers by the Brooklyn and Queens groups contain identical language closely tracking the Giuliani administration’s argument that Legal Aid strikes since 1970 make it necessary “to ameliorate the consequences to the criminal justice system of a future strike in any one organization [Legal Aid Society] . . . [by] having several already well-established providers; it would not be able to put additional providers in place on short notice once a strike became imminent.”
None of the defendants have challenged Legal Aid’s charge that the 1994 strike occurred when the administration for express reasons of upcoming municipal labor strategy forbade the Society from reaching a modest settlement that would have avoided a net cut in Staff Attorney’s compensation while increasing managerial salaries. At that time, the mayor also threatened that, in the event of a strike, he would ALAA into “another PATCO.” While an official in the Justice Department in 1981. Giuliani was the architect of the Reagan administration’s decision to fire all striking air controllers.
When attorneys did strike, Giuliani canceled all of the Society’s contracts — civil as well as criminal; threatened to blacklist the strikers from ever working for the City again; and vowed to contract out criminal representation then perfumed by the Society in order to weaken Legal Aid in general andALAA in particular. Among those: supporting the Giuliani administration’s policy is the City Journal, a small circulation conservative magazine which charged last year that the Society was under the control of “60s leftists and ALAA” and complained about the Society’s legal success in such areas as homeless, tenant and juvenile rights. Just days after the article appeared, the administration issued its invitation to bid for the Society’s work.
In this context, ALAA and 1199 regard those leading and staffing the Giuliani contractors a number of whom are former union members and officers as scabs. In June, under the reform leadership of attorney-in-charge Daniel Greenberg, the Society sought to block the City’s contracts with the strikebreaker organizations — Appellate Advocates, Brooklyn Defender Services, Queens Law Associates — on the grounds that the contracts violated city procurement rules, the 18B statute, section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
On July 3, however, the suit was dismissed by Supreme Court Justice David Saxe. Saxe held no hearing on the Society’s extensive factual allegations and failed in any way to address the Society’s NLRA claim. The Appellate Division will probably hear the case during its November term. The Society, represented pro bono by Sullivan & Cromwell partner Stuart Meiklejohn (in his individual capacity), has filed a separate action in U.S. District Court on the unresolved federal claims. ALAA and 1199 are also considering legal action.
Over the past year, the Society has been joined in its opposition to the administration’s policy by David Dinkins, Ruth Messinger, Fernando Ferrer, H. Carl McCall and Mark Green; six members of the NYC congressional delegation; nine state legislators; 18 NYC Council mermbers; the New York City Central Labor Council; numerous religious and community leaders; and El Diario/La Prensa and Amsterdam News.
In the legal community, opposition has been voiced by numerous state court judges; two former NYC corporation counsels; the deans of three NYC-area law schools; and officials of the New York State Bar Association, National Conference of Black Lawyers, National Hispanic Bar Association, Puerto Rican Bar Association, American Society of Dominican Attorneys, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Macon B. Allen Bar Association. The ABA, NLADA and other national organizations have long opposed competitive bidding for indigent defense services.
Michael Letwin is President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325.