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Oakland City Attorney John Russo will lay off five staff attorneys at the end of the month in a move to help shave $500,000 from the department budget. The cuts, which were first reported by the East Bay News Service, come as local city and county leaders look for ways to avoid multimillion-dollar budget deficits. So far, many department heads have avoided sending in-house city and county attorneys to the unemployment line. But as the state budget problems worsen — and belts are tightened locally — that could change, said Contra Costa County Counsel Silvano Marchesi. Marchesi said his office hasn’t laid off workers, but it will have to slash $180,000 because Contra Costa faces a $50 million deficit. Prosecutors and public defenders are also feeling the pain. Many offices around the Bay Area have signaled that they expect to lay off staff in order to reduce their budgets by 10 percent or more. On Tuesday, Russo said the layoffs, which were scattered among his office’s divisions, were unavoidable. “I don’t agree with this,” said Russo, who said he fought with the City Council and mayor’s office when told he had to make deep budget cuts. Hiring attorneys has saved the city money in outside counsel legal fees, Russo said. “It may save the city a little money in the short term, but it is penny wise and pound foolish,” he said. Russo declined to state the names of the laid-off attorneys. However, litigation supervisor Ines Vargas Fraenkel, police department counsel Claudia Leed and Deputy City Attorney Linda Moroz confirmed that they lost their jobs. Others familiar with the staff cuts said Terry Brown, an attorney who has been out on disability for a year, and Deputy City Attorney Roberto “Manny” Fortes were also laid off. The lawyers’ last day will be Feb. 28. Even with the job cuts in place, the city attorney’s office won’t meet the city’s $500,000 target. Russo’s office will save just under $300,000 this year, but the cumulative effect of the reductions and the elimination of four vacant staff positions will save the department $1.2 million in the next 2003-2005 fiscal cycle. The city attorney’s office had already given back 10 vacant positions, and after the anticipated cuts are completed, the office will drop from 94 to 75 positions. City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente said he initially wanted to see the city lawyers take a bigger cut. “We disagreed on the number. [Russo] wanted to minimize the cut,” the councilman said. “But eventually we decided that the city attorney would cut $500,000 and we would share the pain.” The attorneys who lost their jobs say they are mystified about why they were picked. The cuts appeared to be made without regard to seniority, performance or workload, they said. Leed worked with the city for nearly 13 years. Most recently she has been helping advise the city on the massive civil litigation tied to the “Riders” police misconduct scandal. Fraenkel, a veteran employment lawyer, is one of two litigation supervisors. Moroz worked as a paralegal for two years before she passed the bar and was hired as an entry-level deputy. Fortes and Brown could not be reached for comment. In an interview Moroz said she expects she will have a tough time finding a job at another city. “All of the cities are expecting cuts,” Moroz said, and many experienced attorneys are job-hunting. “I’ve only practiced law for two years.” Leed and Fraenkel said they are also looking for work. Leed added that she still has high regard for the city attorney’s office and Russo. “He fought for our positions,” she said. According to the president of the deputy city attorney’s union, in-house attorneys have been hit hardest by layoffs. The cut reduced the in-house attorney ranks by 12 percent, Rossi said. Citywide, about 50 people have lost jobs so far — five of whom were lawyers, said Dan Rossi, the union president and a deputy city attorney. In terms of percentages, that means city lawyers lost the most jobs through layoffs compared to other departments. City lawyers were somewhat caught off guard by the layoff announcement, because “we got some mixed messages,” Rossi said. At a Feb. 5 meeting, Russo said there would be layoffs, according to Rossi. Later, Russo said the situation was “still fluid” and the jobs might be saved. On Thursday the notices went out about the layoffs, Rossi said. When asked about the communication issue, Russo said he made it “very clear” during that time that people would lose jobs. “There were no mixed messages,” Russo said. And the city of Oakland isn’t out of the woods yet, De La Fuente said. After June 30, the City Council will have to look at ways to slice an additional $30 million to $40 million, he said, so more city jobs will be cut. “This,” he said, “is just the beginning for all of us.”

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