Layoffs, Public Interest

Nationwide Layoff Watch: A Dozen Down at the Bronx DA’s Office

Working as a lawyer for the government is regarded by many as the life raft for riding out the recession. But thanks to shrinking budgets, attorneys in the public sector are also losing their jobs.

Yesterday the Bronx District Attorney, Robert T. Johnson, issued a letter announcing a layoff of 12 assistant district attorneys in his office, scheduled to take effect by the end of this month. The prosecutors who are losing their jobs have already been notified. Johnson blamed the New York City financial plan, which significantly reduces the office’s funding for the fiscal years of 2011, which started yesterday, and 2012.

The cuts were not unexpected, since Johnson had laid the groundwork for layoffs in a letter back in May. In that letter, first reported by the New York Daily News, Johnson predicted that he might have to lay off as many as 45 ADAs. So the cut of 12 ADAs could be seen as “good news,” since it’s smaller than some expected. (In his letter yesterday, Johnson said that he was able to avoid larger cuts thanks in part to some cost-saving measures in the office.)

But Robert Johnson announced another piece of news at the same time, which a number of veteran prosecutors found strange and upsetting….

Johnson’s letter disclosed that 20 new assistant district attorneys will be joining the office in the fall. Firing a dozen seasoned prosecutors while bringing in 20 newbies angered some attorneys currently in the office. Johnson perhaps expected this news would not be received well, since his letter preemptively justifies it:

While this [hiring of 20 and firing of 12] will not bring us to an ideal staffing level, it will effectuate the previously mentioned balance of staffing and permit some promotional movement throughout the bureaus without putting any additional strain on our budget.

Translation: newbies are cheaper than experienced attorneys, since the newbies get paid less (although query whether the salary differential makes up for the reality that junior attorneys are clueless aren’t as efficient and need to be trained).

In fairness to Johnson and the Bronx DA’s office, this kind of “generation war” — or, to be more precise, conflict between lawyers of differing seniority (since they’re not always of different generations) — takes place in many a legal workplace. It’s especially prevalent in the sometimes cutthroat environment of large law firms. It takes place between junior associates and summer associates, between associates and partners, and between partners and older partners.

In any event, good luck to the 12 assistant district attorneys who received bad news yesterday. This is a pretty crappy way to start the holiday weekend. But given the courtroom skills you’ve cultivated in the DA’s office, you should land on your feet.

Bronx DA’s office may slash 45 prosecutors as budget woes loom [New York Daily News]

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