For a governor who is an Officer of the Court, Christie displays a willful pattern of disregard for the rights of those least able to defend themselves. In the midst of a recession with high unemployment the number of people who cannot afford legal services only increases. In his actions once again we see no negative impact on the wealthy, but instead a deliberate pattern of disadvantaging further those who are already disadvantaged, and making life easier for corporations, the Executive Branch, his buddies and associated miscreants. Four groups in particular are so negatively impacted as to cause serious concern.
The Public Advocate’s Office, dissolved by Republicans in 1994 and restored in 2005 by Democrats, was once again abolished June 30 by lawman Christie. The key divisions of Public Interest Advocacy were eliminated and others were transferred to the Public Defender or Treasury. Its mission has been to keep a watch on local and state government agencies. Although this group irks other members of government with its reports and lawsuits, it provides needed recourse for those government has injured. Its independence and advocacy have served us well. In the past I provided assistance to the Public Advocate’s Office on tenant and prisoner issues.
Office of the Public Defender, as the OLS points out, suffered a reduction of about $4 million in this year’s budget – during a period of increased demand. This group has long struggled with funding that makes it difficult to provide quality representation for the accused. The best OLS can say about the current funding is that “It will allow it to meet its core missions.”
NJ Legal Services (NJLS), a non-profit group, has also struggled for years to meet the demand for its services. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “State aid cuts have forced the NJLS to order staffing reductions that it says will deny free legal help to thousands of low-income residents this year and next.” I happen to know two people who are currently using NJ Legal Services – an undocumented immigrant and a person with AIDS.
Libraries, with their own budget cuts, are having to reduce hours and services. For many who can not afford a lawyer nor obtain help from the underfunded NJLS, a library is their last recourse for information to help protect themselves. In Newark, for example, the Main Library and all branches have scheduled dates for furlough closings, and only the Main Library will be open on Saturdays. Camden has been facing even more severe problems.