Brooklyn Boro

City’s public defenders to get pay parity with city lawyers

June 14, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, speaks at a rally for pay parity for public defenders. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

New York City’s public defenders will have their pay raised to match the salaries of the lawyers who represent the city — known as Corporation Counsel — the City Council and mayor announced Friday afternoon as part of their $92.8 billion budget agreement for fiscal year 2020.

Public defenders across the city made a push in recent months to get their salaries to match Corporation Counsel, arguing that low pay makes it hard to recruit and retain lawyers who struggle to live and start families in New York. Some work second jobs to make ends meet. Public defenders are not public employees, but instead work for third-party organizations such as The Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services that contract with the city.

In the weeks leading up to the budget agreement, public defenders made a video message for Mayor Bill de Blasio, and rallied on the steps of City Hall demanding millions of dollars in funding.

The tentative agreement to match public defenders’ salaries to those of the Corporation Counsel did not come with a fixed amount of money in funding.

“There are real retention issues and recruitment issues that we care about a lot for those folks,” de Blasio said Friday at City Hall. “We’re going to keep working throughout the coming months until we get it done.”

The city will provide immediate funding for public defenders’ offices this summer, and will then work with them to implement a four-year phase in to close the gap between public defenders and the Corporation Counsel, according to a spokesperson for the Legal Aid Society.

“As we have said before, a budget is a reflection of values, and with this funding allocation, the City reaffirms its commitment to supporting our staff and the communities that we serve,” said Janet Sabel, CEO and attorney-in-chief at the Legal Aid Society.

“With this agreement to fund salary parity for public defenders, New York City has shown it values the communities we serve and the work of our attorneys who fight tirelessly to guarantee justice for our clients,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

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The council must still officially pass the budget before the fiscal year begins in July.

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