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Fed up with monthly pay cuts of up to 23 percent, Alameda County dependency attorneys have formed a professional group to put pressure on the local bar. “We wanted the attorneys to form a unified voice,” said Oakland solo Chantal Sampogna, co-chair of the newly established Alameda County Dependency Counsel. The new group has about 25 members, roughly half of the 50 active dependency panel attorneys, Sampogna said. A statement from the group Tuesday hinted at a possible lawsuit against the bar, but Sampogna says the group was divided on that issue. The announcement caps an escalating pay feud between Alameda County Bar Association leaders and dependency lawyers. The bar association has a three-year, $6 million court contract to handle juvenile cases. Under the agreement, the bar association runs a program that assigns dependency cases to local lawyers. An unexpected surge in casework and restrictions in the court contract put the program into the red and forced the bar to dip into its own pocket to pay attorneys. In April, the bar adopted a plan that reduces pay rates when there is an influx of bills. While panel lawyers have been paid in full some months, during others, they take steep pay cuts. In July, attorneys took a 23 percent chop. Panel members don’t know how big the pay cut will be until after all of the attorneys have submitted their monthly billing paperwork, Sampogna said. When the bar can’t pay lawyers in full, “really we are doing those [remaining] cases for free,” she said. “No one would work in that situation.” Bar President Spencer Strellis was unavailable for comment Tuesday. President-elect Victor Ochoa, however, said that the financial problems that have plagued the contract are “beyond our control.” “The ACBA has been doing what it can to make this a workable situation,” said Ochao, adding that the bar would review the new group’s concerns. Alameda County Dependency Counsel was born because panel attorneys who complained about the contract haven’t been taken seriously, Sampogna said. The bar is advised by six dependency lawyers, but that group doesn’t necessarily represent the 50 dependency panel lawyers, she said. A Tuesday press release stops short of accusing the bar of mismanaging the program but lists a host of complaints. The bar hired an inexperienced attorney to coordinate the program, gave “conflicting” explanations for the money shortage, and misled attorneys about how much they would be paid, the statement says. Ochoa declined to address the allegations in the release, sayingbar leaders haven’t had a chance to review them. The program’s problems have eroded trust between the panel and the bar, Sampogna said. Early on, bar leaders urged panel members to specialize in dependency work, but now say that the cases were only intended to be supplemental income. “I’m not saying that we are looking after penny after penny,” Sampogna said. But lawyers “are not getting the representation that they should.”

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