More on the Value of Indigent Defense

With a hat tip to Newsday letter writer (scroll down to the second letter), attorney Jeffrey Myles Klein, comes this small bit of information that says so much about the relative worth of criminal defense and our society’s commitment to Gideon.

Suffolk County, New York, is a pretty wealthy area, but also an area burdened with ridiculously high taxes (much like my very own, beloved Nassau County).  Still, there are certain obligations that a government undertakes in this country.  These are American obligations, every bit as real and important as the ones young men and women die for in foreign lands.  But here at home, we can’t seem to find them worthy enough for our sacrifice.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has  vetoed from the budget $300,000 earmarked for raises for attorneys in the Legal Aid Society.  After all, they’re lawyers for criminals.  Who cares?  Seriously.  Who cares?  What will the employees of the Legal Aid Society do if they can’t pay the rent or feed their kids.  Who cares?  Let them go to work for a real law firm and make the big bucks, like all the other attorneys.  As we can all attest.

And this is why I have  issues with paying first year associates the big bucks.  There are people doing the  unpleasant work that society is required to do, and the worth of their efforts is demonstrated in a veto.  They aren’t in the job to get rich, and that sure isn’t going to happen under any circumstance, but they should be paid enough to survive in the ordinary course.  Where’s a  Judy Kaye op-ed when you need one?

Not that this bears any direct nexus, but it does effectively provide the needed juxtaposition for Levy’s veto:  Simultaneous with the veto of LAS raises comes the allocation of more than $300,000 for the lump sum payout for a single Suffolk County Police Officer.  Sure, he’s entitled to the payout and any other contractual benefits provided by the collective bargaining agreement.  And lest any cops’ wife opine, “it’s a very hard job.”  As if the Legal Aid Society lawyers are hanging out at their desks all day eating bon bons and watching their stock portfolios move downward.

Greybear wrote a comment here about how money isn’t the primary motivator for the type of person inclined to being a legal aid lawyer.  Fully agreed.  But their children still want to eat.  Every single day.  These are well-educated, hard-working lawyers who fulfill a necessary mission in a criminal justice system that would stop dead without them.  Should they personally have to suffer for society’s disdain for their work?