Attorney at Public Defender’s Office alleges management retaliation for union involvement

Attorney at Public Defender’s Office alleges management retaliation for union involvement
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 11:25 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - An attorney with the public defender’s youth division says she’s being retaliated against because of her involvement with a union.

Over the weekend, Cat Vining and her colleague appeared in a pro-union news story. Once they got back into the office on Monday, Vining said they were both told they were being moved out of the youth division.

Staff attorneys at the Public Defender’s Office unionized a year ago. Vining says management has slowly done what it can to get rid of unionizers.

Their latest effort according to Vining is to transfer some of the few juvenile attorneys they have left.

The juvenile division at the Public Defender’s Office is fully staffed when they have 12 attorneys. Recently they’ve had just three.

Now two of them are being moved to the adult division.

“Their justification was there aren’t enough attorneys in adult, and my thought process is well there definitely aren’t enough in juvenile,” Vining said.

Vining said their cases will be given to private attorneys. Some of which Vining claims don’t have experience working with kids.

She told WAVE News there are nuances with the job that adult attorneys don’t have to work with.

“A child of mine will get hospitalized, and I’m answering phone calls at 8 p.m. about that child,” Vining said. “I’m getting phone calls about my clients that might try to hurt themselves or kill themselves in a detention center. I have children who are getting kicked out of their homes and I am trying to find a place to get them involved.”

Vining and her colleague are leaders in the union. She said it’s hard to imagine that the move is anything but retaliation for unionizing.

“We did unionize in 2000, and they are doing the same exact thing that they’re doing now,” Vining said. “They hired private attorneys, they overwhelmed pro-union people with cases, and retaliated incredibly hard instead of negotiating.

Vining said there’s never a good time to minimize the juvenile division, but especially not now, when headlines are filled with kids committing robberies and even murder.

“That’s what I see time and time again in the courtroom,” Vining said. “Children with guns. Maybe they haven’t committed a robbery, but there are carjackings, murders, just having a gun, having a gun in a stolen car, bringing a gun to school.”

She said a private attorney isn’t going to put on cases every single week, continuously talk with the judge and prosecutor, or constantly check to make sure all their kids are getting what they need.

“A lot of my kids are now in Adair County,” Vining said. “They can’t get visits. They’re in their jail cells 23 hours a day. They don’t get school, they’re getting school packets. I have to have cases on every week to make sure that the department of juvenile justice is providing counseling for children that I have that are suicidal.”

She feels bringing in people who aren’t willing to go the extra mile will hurt the kids both now and in the future.

“They’re going to get out at some point, and you need to have someone on that end, on our side who is checking and making sure that services are getting there so that when that child is out, they’re a productive member of society,” Vining said.

When Vining was asked if she was worried about any kind of retaliation for speaking out she said she no longer cares about what happens to her. She only cares about the kids.

The Public Defender’s Office sent the following comment on Wednesday afternoon:

“Ms. Vining’s recent statements misrepresent the truth of the situation, just as her previous statements misrepresented the compensation and benefits received by staff attorneys. Further, the attorneys with whom Public Defender Corporation has made arrangements to handle some of the cases from the Juvenile Division are highly respected members of the bar and have as much or more experience in handling juvenile justice matters as anyone on the staff of Public Defender Corporation.  Also, to be clear, Public Defender Corporation is subcontracting cases to private attorneys (most of whom previously worked for Public Defender Corporation) on a temporary basis to reduce the case loads of Staff Attorneys while Public Defender Corporation seeks to recruit and hire additional attorneys to fill vacancies created by attorney departures.”