Wednesday, July 7, 2004
A.G.’s Office Says It May Have to Lay Off More Than 100 Lawyers
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Attorney General’s Office may have to lay off more than 100 of its lawyers by early next year under the state budget currently being negotiated, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer said yesterday.
A memo sent to employees on Friday, a copy of which was obtained by the MetNews, lays out a “worst-case scenario,” Nathan Barankin explained.
“We continue to work every day for any viable option we have,” Barankin insisted. But Lockyer’s chief deputies, Steve Coony and Rick Frank, sent the memo out “so all of the employees...know how dire our circumstances are,” the spokesman explained.
After three years of managing budget cuts leaving vacancies unfilled and cutting other expenses, Barankin said, the office has reached the point at which it had no choice other than to plan layoffs in the legal divisions.
The Department of Justice, which consists of the legal divisions plus the divisions of Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice Information Systems, Administrative Services, Gambling Control and Firearms, has “lost 23 percent of our general fund support over three fiscal years” and slashed 500 positions, Barankin said.
“We’ve been incredibly creative” in order to avoid letting workers go, he added. “We have run through our menu of creative options and are searching for more.”
In the memo, Coony and Frank said the legal divisions face an acute problem because “a ‘perfect storm’ of revenue and expenditure problems has been brewing for more than a decade.” The projected result, they said, is “a nearly $10 million funding shortfall in the legal divisions for which we currently have no guaranteed remedy other than reducing our personnel spending to match the available resources.”
That means potential layoffs of 285 employees, including 118 deputy attorneys general, they said. The cuts would come late this year or earlier next year, and by law must be based on seniority in state service, Coony and Frank advised.
The plan is subject to approval of the state Department of Personnel Administration. Notices would go out about two weeks from now, and affected employees would have 120 days to exercise appeal rights or seek hiring, on a priority basis, by other state agencies.
“For now, thanks for your patience, your good wishes for our collective success, and for your great work for California, which will ultimately get us through and beyond this unhappy moment,” the chief deputies concluded.
Barbara Noble, a 25-year litigator in the Attorney General’s Office and the president of the California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment—also known as CASE—the union representing deputy attorneys general, pronounced herself “totally shocked” by the memo and said the notion of layoffs was “offensive.”
“We are concerned that taxpayers will not save money...the legal work will end up being done by private attorneys at exorbitant expense to the taxpayer,” she commented.
The layoffs will impact lawyers with up to 32 or 33 months of service, she explained. Letting those attorneys go, she said, “makes no economic sense in terms of the investment in their training.”
She added that the work “has to be done anyway.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company