Prosecutors to Stay Away From Court in Bid for Better Conditions

More than 800 attorneys in the State Prosecutor's Office and its districts nationwide will not appear in court debates next Wednesday as part of their struggle for better work conditions.

The attorneys' union head, Boaz Goldberg, said the lawyers will intensify their measures and even go on a general strike unless the justice and finance ministries start negotiating with them on demands they have been making for several years. The lawyers declared a labor dispute as a prelude to a strike four years ago, but the justice and finance ministries have refused to negotiate with them all this time, he said.

The attorneys are demanding a monthly travel allowance for some 300 lawyers who use their own cars to travel to court, a cellular telephone for each one, promotion options and making them partners to structural and organizational changes the Justice Ministry is planning.

"We're trying to stop the brain drain from the state prosecution," says Goldberg, who was appointed union head less that two weeks ago.

Goldberg, 41, from the state prosecution's Haifa district civil department, started as an intern some 10 years ago.

Dozens of lawyers with about seven years' seniority have left the state prosecution for private practice in recent years, Goldberg estimates. Losing such lawyers means worse representation and legal advice in the civil service, he says.

"It's the seven-year itch," Goldberg says. "That's the average time it takes a lawyer to gain knowledge and experience and win professional recognition. That's when he is looking for professional and economic advancement. Working in the State Prosecutor's Office is very challenging and satisfying. Relatively young attorneys deal with complex cases and come into contact with senior civil service officials. However, in the absence of promotion and professional advancement, the better sort of attorneys abandon ship."

An attorney's gross monthly starting wage is NIS 7,500, including up to 20 hours' overtime, he says. After several years' experience the lawyers want to be promoted to management positions, of which very few are available and they must contend for them with as many as 10 others.

The lawyers' work conditions took a turn for the worse about eight years ago, when the civil service replaced its workers' state-budgeted pension to depositing a monthly sum into a pension fund. The former system gave the lawyers, who received preferential pension terms, an advantage over other civil service workers. This advantage was canceled when the state-budgeted pension was revoked.

Over the past years the number of attorneys in the state prosecution has increased, but the higher-paid management positions have not grown in proportion, causing lawyers to be stuck in middle positions without being able to increase their wages.

In addition, the State Prosecutor's Office introduced structural changes, creating improvised managerial positions that are not better paid. At the same time many lawyers are denied basic work tools such as cellular telephones and travel expenses due to budgetary constraints.

While doctors in the civil service are permitted to have private practices as well, lawyers do not have that option.

Consequently the state prosecution lawyers earn less, have fewer senior positions to aspire to and their advancement options are limited, says Goldberg. The "sense of mission" that brings young lawyers to the state prosecution is not enough to keep them there a few years later, he says.

He admits the state prosecution is a convenient work place, affording tenure among other things. "But it's a myth that lawyers drop their pencils at 4 P.M. and go home. Everyone comes to work between 7 A.M. and 7:30 A.M. When I walk down the corridor at 4 P.M. I see people working, and I'm not the only one in the building as late as 10 P.M. Even those who leave at 4 P.M. take home files to work on," he says.

The Finance Ministry said "the issues are known and familiar. The prosecution is working on the issues and has had achievements in recent years. We hope the dispute will come to an end in the near future."