Public defenders urge mayor to fund pay parity in video message

By David Brand

The Legal Aid Society published a video message Wednesday urging the mayor to fund higher salaries for public defenders as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. The video features attorneys and staff from Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Practice, Civil Practice and Juvenile Rights Practice who ask the city to ensure pay parity among public defenders and other city attorneys, including the New York City Corporation Counsel.

“The disparity between our pay and the attorneys that practice across the courtroom from us at the Law Department, it’s a crisis. It is leading to our people leaving in droves,” said Jared Trujillo, Legal Aid lawyer and president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys - UAW Local 2325.

Public defenders from across the city have demonstrated for higher pay and testified about the relatively low wages at City Hall hearings.

Tina Luongo, the attorney in charge of Legal Aid’s Criminal Practice, highlighted specific salary disparities between Corporation Counsel attorneys and public defenders during an October hearing.

New York City Corporation Counsel attorneys with 10 years of experience earn an annual salary of roughly $108,000 while public defenders with 10 years of experience earn about $90,000, she said.

NYC Law Department spokesperson Nick Paolucci told the Eagle “fair compensation” for public defenders “is a critical factor in recruiting and retaining effective lawyers.”

 “Our system of justice works best when all parties in litigation are represented by competent counsel,” Paolucci said.

The #PayParityNow campaign has called for a $50 million allocation from the city to address the pay disparity, in addition to a $15 million funding recommendation included in the City Council’s budget response.

“It’s an issue of value. So it’s valuing our clients. It’s valuing the people that do the work, but it’s also about justice,” said Shivani Alamo, staff attorney with the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society.