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The New York City Legal Aid Society has rescinded job offers to nine law graduates in a bid to cut a $2 million yearly deficit in its criminal defense operation. Daniel Greenberg, the Society’s executive director, said in an interview Friday that the decision to drop the new hires was made in early July, when the Society emerged from New York City’s annual budget process with a mere $100,000 gain in funding. The Society’s total criminal defense budget is $72 million, of which $60.4 million comes from the city, with most of the balance coming from New York State. That amount is “inadequate” to enable the Society to carry out its mission as the primary defender of indigent criminal defendants, Greenberg said. To maintain its current staff of 491 lawyers, Greenberg said, would require a budget of $74 million. Last fiscal year, he noted, the Society took out a $2 million loan to meet its obligations. The Society had requested $66.8 million from the city, but Mayor Giuliani authorized only $54.8 million, the same amount as had been included in the executive budget last year. In negotiations with the City Council, the Society added $5.6 million, bringing its total to $60.4 million. In addition to cancelling the job offers, Greenberg said the Society has imposed a hiring freeze, and hopes to further close the budget gap by reducing its staff, through attrition, by 30 to 40 lawyers over the course of the year. While the Society is taking those budget cutting measures, it agreed to average annual raises of about 2.5 percent in its union contract, which was signed in April. Greenberg defended the raises, saying that they were modest and less than those granted at other agencies such as the Corporation Counsel’s Office. “Everybody understands that you have to pay a decent living wage to keep anybody,” he said. He added that the raises constituted a “minuscule” portion of the $2 million deficit, but declined to be more specific. Assuming the Society is able to close its budget gap through attrition, it will be left with about 450 lawyers in criminal defense. In 1994, before the Society’s budget was cut to provide funding for seven new defender organizations, it had 620 lawyers for criminal defense. In 1994 when the Society’s city funding was cut from $79 million to $60 million, Greenberg said, it was promised that the new defender groups would enable it to reduce its caseload by 52,500. But, he noted, because of a surge in street arrests through programs like Operation Condor, its caseload is only down by 15,000. In the last fiscal year, he pointed out, the Society handled 210,000 cases, a decline of only 6 percent from 1994. In contrast, he added, the Society’s criminal defense staff has shrunk by 21 percent, and if attrition proceeds as planned this year, it will decline another 6 percent. Steven M. Fishner, the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Coordinator, could not be reached for comment. Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, said “the Council will go to bat for the Society” in seeking additional funds and “push the Mayor as far as we can.” The nine law graduates who were slated to start in September were all hired in the late spring, Greenberg said. They were all informed when their offers were extended that their hiring was contingent upon the Society receiving adequate funding, he added. In a normal year, the Society anticipates that about 10 percent of its staff will leave, and correspondingly hires a similar number of replacements to start in the fall, said Theresa de Leon, the Society’s chief financial officer. With a staff of 491, that would translate to about 50 departures during the year and 50 replacements, mostly recent law school graduates, to begin in the following fall. Greenberg said that the Society had been “conservative” in sending out only nine job offers this year.

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