Restoration of City Council Funding
FRIDAY, JULY 16, 2010

In an article earlier this month, The New York Law Journal reported that the budgets of the City's five District Attorneys were being cut by 6 percent, lower than expected, and that The Legal Aid Society would be funded at the same level at least for the first six months of the current fiscal year. The City has not announced new contracts as a result of the Request for Proposals for criminal trial work which would begin on January 1, 2011.

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief, told The New York Law Journal that it was essential for the City Council "to restore our funding, but I wish for once and for all for the end of the budget dance of cuts and then restorations when we talk about the constitutional mandate" of adequate representation for low income criminal defendants.

Read New York Law Journal article below.


The New York Law Journal
City Prosecutors Get by With Better-Than-Expected Budget Decreases
Daniel Wise

New York City funding for its five district attorneys and the special narcotics prosecutor is down by 6 percent in the budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.

The budget news for the 2011 fiscal year is not quite as gloomy as the prosecutors had anticipated because the mayor's office and the City Council together added $6.5 million, or 2.5 percent, to the executive budget Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg submitted in May. Total city funding, which makes up more than 90 percent of the agencies' budgets, is $258.7 million.

In addition, there have been reports that another $16.5 million may be on its way to the prosecutors, either through recoveries made by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office or added tax dollars or a combination of the two. Neither the mayor's office nor the Manhattan District Attorney's Office would confirm the reports from other sources.

An added $16.5 million would bring the funding for prosecutors to $275.3 million, the same level as fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30.

The Bronx District Attorney's Office, which in early June had said it might be forced to lay off as many as 45 assistant district attorneys, informed the office's 375 lawyers in a letter on July 1 that it would let go of 12 prosecutors, effective July 31.

However, Steven Reed, a spokesman for Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, said the layoffs were not "dictated" by the cuts in city funding.

There will be no layoffs on Staten Island, said William Smith, a spokesman for District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. Mr. Smith said the office has been able to avoid layoffs because it executed a "prudent fiscal plan" in response to warnings from the Bloomberg administration last year that cuts were coming.

For example, the Staten Island office has not replaced some departing assistants, leaving the office with 44 assistants versus 46 last year; and it has supplemented staff through "deferred hires" from law firms, according to Mr. Smith.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, through a spokesman, said he is "concerned these cuts will have a profound negative impact on my office and, more importantly, upon the safety of the people of Brooklyn." The spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, declined to elaborate on how the cuts would affect the office.

Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, declined to comment other than to say the cuts created equal "challenges" for all six offices.

Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan, said it would be "premature" to comment.

Joan Vallero, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., also declined to comment.

In the Bronx, there will be new hires along with the forced departures, Mr. Johnson advised his staff. Twenty new assistant district attorneys will come on board in the fall, the letter stated.

Though several veterans were among those let go, two sources said the layoffs included attorneys with all levels of experience, including an assistant who had joined the office in 2008. One of those terminated was in the middle of a homicide trial when he was notified he was being let go, according to two sources.

Mr. Johnson's letter made reference to the fact that the 2011 budget "significantly reduces our NYC funding." However, it went on to state, "the purpose of this difficult and unpleasant decision is, among other things, to promote maximum efficiency and balance the way the Office is staffed."

In addition to bringing new recruits in the fall, he added, the office also would be in a position to "permit some promotional movement throughout the bureaus without putting any additional strain on our budget." Vallone: More Funds Coming

City Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., D-Queens, said participants in budget negotiations raised the possibility that the $16.5 million funding reduction for prosecutors citywide would likely be made up from "an anticipated recovery" by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. To the extent the shortfall was not covered by funds recovered through deferred prosecution agreements, he added, the city agreed to make up any deficit with more funds during the course of the fiscal year.

"Even though City Hall has agreed to hold the district attorneys' offices harmless," said Mr. Vallone, who is the chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, "more needs to be done because, even at last year's funding levels, case loads are unmanageable and public safety suffers."

Two prosecution sources said they had heard reports that more money might be forthcoming, with one from outside of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office stating "there is truth" to the report that recovery money from that office will be made available to other offices.

Neither Ms. Vallero, the spokeswoman for Mr. Vance, nor Jason Post, a City Hall spokesman, would comment on the reports.

In his July 1 letter, Mr. Johnson said that no commitment regarding added funding had been received by his office.

The 6 percent reduction in the prosecutors' budgets were part of the $61.3 billion budget that the City Council adopted for the 2011 fiscal year. Other agencies throughout the city also were hit hard by budget cuts, with 1,000 layoffs projected citywide and the elimination of another 6,000 positions through attrition.

The budget, however, did not contain any tax increases as a result of improved revenues due to Wall Street's rebound.

Legal Aid at Same Level

Unlike the city's prosecutors, the Legal Aid Society will receive the same funding as last year at least for the first six months of the current fiscal year.

New contracts for the representation of poor defendants are expected to be announced in September, effective Jan. 1, 2011. Legal Aid now represents more indigent defendants than any other group. The city has not released any details about how many groups have applied to represent poor defendants in response to its a request for proposals in February (NYLJ, Feb. 10).

Legal Aid, which received $79 million in fiscal year 2010, will receive the equivalent of $39.5 million to cover the first half of the 2011 fiscal year.

The Bloomberg administration only proposed giving Legal Aid $33.9 million in the executive budget, but the City Council gave it a $5.7 million grant out of a separate $49.9 million fund which the council controls. The $5.7 million grant was the equivalent of the $11.3 million that the City Council had awarded to Legal Aid for indigent defense work in fiscal year 2010.

Steven Banks, Legal Aid's attorney-in-chief, said it was essential for the City Council "to restore our funding, but I wish for once and for all for the end of the budget dance of cuts and then restorations when we talk about the constitutional mandate" of adequate representation for poor criminal defendants.