Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 | As Jan Goldsmith takes the reins at the City Attorney’s Office, he has vowed to interview every single lawyer employed by the city and to rid the office of attorneys who don’t fit his vision or who don’t have the requisite skills or experience to push the city forward.
But, because of a two-year-old agreement between the city and the union that represents deputy city attorneys, Goldsmith will have to choose whether to give severance pay to many of those lawyers who he doesn’t are think fit for duty or give those lawyers three weeks notice, during which they will be expected to continue working despite having just been fired.
If he chooses to pay the lawyers, Goldsmith’s housecleaning could end up costing the city tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance pay at a time when City Hall is grappling with a $43 million shortfall and the City Attorney’s Office is already projected to go more than $1.8 million over budget with more than half of the fiscal year to go.
But, if he chooses to ask the attorneys to work out their notice, Goldsmith runs the risk that the ousted employees will stop working anyway, and two local employment law experts said private sector employers usually prefer to pay their employees severance because of the risk of poor work performance or even sabotage.
“They’re not going to be of any use anyway,” said Orly Lobel, an employment law expert at the University of San Diego. “You don’t want them hanging around, trying to poach your other employees, that kind of thing.”
The labor agreement, inked between the city and the Deputy City Attorney’s Association, requires that deputy city attorneys who have been employed by the city for more than two years are given three weeks’ notice when they are terminated. If the deputy city attorneys are fired on the spot, they are entitled to three weeks pay in lieu of that notice.