Monday, July 14, 2003

Dean v. Defenders, II

Vermont's public defenders, concerned that Gov. Howard Dean might try to cut back their services, are seeking the right to join a union.
The lawyers, who work for the Vermont Defender General's office, have petitioned the Vermont Labor Relations Board for the right to conduct a union election. They want to be represented by the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, an affiliate of the United Automobile Workers, which represents Legal Aid lawyers in New York City.
William Nelson, a public defender who is one of the organizers of the union drive, said of the effort, "The major impetus has been uncertainty and concern about how the Dean administration is going to treat public defense in the years ahead." Mr. Nelson said the union drive is "only partly" about salaries and job conditions.
To cut spending, Governor Dean, a Democrat, has said he might try to limit the number of defendants who are eligible for public defenders or to restrict the types of services public defenders can provide.
More than two-thirds of the 48 people in the public defenders' office signed the petition to the labor relations board. They include paralegals, investigators and secretaries. All of them would be eligible to join the union.
The state's public defenders provide free legal defense for low-income clients charged with a crime for which they could be sentenced to jail. In some counties the state contracts with private law firms to provide public defenders. Those lawyers are not involved in the union effort.
The New York Times, February 5, 1993