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Lawyering for the Legislature

There are a lot of ways to look at the State Legislature's spending. One way: as an employment agency for lawyers.

Forget about how many of the lawmakers themselves are attorneys. I'm talking about those they hire.

Three_stooges Senate and Assembly Expenditure Reports are formatted in a way to discourage tracking of job titles -- among other things. My review of reports for the budget year that ended March 31 shows we have more lawyers on the Senate payroll than we have senators.

Start with the 19 who work for the attorney's office that serves Republicans. There there's the nine who work for the Democrats. Plus the support staff, 25 alone for just the GOP, and the bill for legal services last year for the Senate was $4.1 million.

But we're just getting warmed up.

Senators have another 42 on their personal staffs, some part-time, but mostly full-time. Dean Skelos, then the deputy majority leader, now leader of the pack, was especially fond of lawyers, having a full-timer on staff at $80,000 and three part-timers. Dale Volker had the best-paid staff attorney, making just a tad over $100,000.

At least another three lawyers were scattered elsewhere on the Senate payroll.

Grand total: 73.

On the Assembly side, I counted 40, mostly full-timers, working on assorted committees and departments alone.

Between the two houses, at least three lawyers made more than State Supreme Court judges, whose annual salary of $136,700 hasn't been raised by the Legislature in nearly a decade. Michael Avella, the Senate's top-paid lawyer last budget year, made $180,000. He'd have to take a slight pay cut to be governor.

What do all these lawyers do? I mean, besides election law during the campaign season.

Well, I guess they draft a lot of bills. Two studies done a few years back by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School found that no state legislature proposes more bills. In 2005, our guys introduced no fewer than 15,099 bills.

Of course, only 5 percent of them make it into law, one of the lowest passage rates in the nation and much lower than the national average of 28 percent. Then again, without these dead-on-arrival bills to announce, what would the army of spokesmen hired by the Legislature do with their time?

Depressed? Take a minute - 59 seconds, to be exact - to watch Dewey, Cheatem & Howe in action.


State government
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