Public defenders are calling on New York City Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council to boost funding for legal services so they can give lawyers raises and recruit new attorneys to address dire staffing shortages.
The city’s largest legal service provider, The Legal Aid Society, represents New York City residents in criminal, family and housing court, among other venue. It has about 500 vacancies it’s struggling to fill, the organization said, adding it currently employs about 2,000 people. The organization cast the need as crucial to maintaining the constitutional rights of New Yorkers who can’t afford legal representation.
“Mayor Adams has talked a lot about how our justice system must fully function, emphasizing the needs of law enforcement,” said Twyla Carter, CEO of The Legal Aid Society, in a statement Thursday. “We are a part of that system too, and when the scales of justice tilt towards one side, people suffer, and those New Yorkers are often some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Other public defender organizations like The Bronx Defenders and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem are facing similar staffing shortages, the groups said in a statement, first reported by The New York Times.
A growing number of tenants in Bronx housing are facing evictions without attorneys, Gothamist reported.
While companies are struggling to fill vacancies across industries, private sector employers have wiggle room to boost wages to entice workers, while legal service providers have fixed spending, tied to the city’s budget. That budget is due on July 1st, but Politico recently reported the Council and the mayor are nearing a compromise and could be done earlier than required.
Spokespeople for the mayor and the City Council didn’t return requests for comment immediately.