Mythbusting Merit Conversion

Greetings, colleagues!

The Maryland Defenders Union is proud of SB757/HB1277, the bills introduced in the present legislative session to convert OPD attorneys from at-will to merit employees. The bills are sponsored by Delegate Shaneka Henson in the House and Senator Jill Carter in the Senate – herself a former Maryland public defender.

 In recent days, you may have heard some myths and outright falsehoods about the impacts of the legislation. While Paul DeWolfe's email from yesterday says he is not taking a position on the bills, management clearly understands that merit conversion will shift power into the hands of frontline OPD workers. This will likely not be the last anti-worker, anti-union email we receive.

 That's why it's important to know the facts! These bills will help not just attorneys but also core staff, social workers, and – most importantly – our clients! Make sure you check the end of this email for ways that you can bust some myths of your own and show your support for SB757 and HB1277!

  

Black and red text on yellow background saying "Mythbusters: OPD Merit Conversion Edition, let's fact check Paul DeWolfe" with a red myth button being clicked.

 

  • MYTH #1: No OPD attorneys currently have merit status.
  •  FACT: Exactly one OPD attorney currently has merit status and its protections from unjust discipline or termination: Paul DeWolfe
  •  MYTH #2: This bill will force OPD to hire former prosecutors or in-state residents over more committed and dedicated applicants. 
  • FACT: This is absolutely false. Like every other state agency, OPD will be required under § 7-202 of the Personnel and Pensions to create and publish a “position selection plan,” which can contain whatever combination of criteria that OPD chooses. The agency will never have to ignore an applicant’s demonstrated commitment to our mission or hire an applicant who lacks that commitment. If anything, merit status will help the agency recruit zealous defenders, as the criteria for earning a position at OPD will finally be publicly available.

  • MYTH #3: This bill will hinder OPD’s attempts to address racial disparities in the hiring process.

  • FACT: It is precisely because of the racial disparities in the agency’s hiring process that the MDU is pushing for this bill’s passage. Too many passionate advocates from a variety of backgrounds have been forced to leave the agency because of the instability, lack of advancement opportunities, and uncertainty that OPD lawyers face, causing our diversity to suffer. OPD leadership is overwhelmingly white. Eleven out of twelve District Public Defenders are white. This bill will force OPD to transparently account for and address the lack of diversity among new hires and candidates for promotion rather than hiding behind vague platitudes unsupported by action.

  • MYTH #4: Merit status will impose significant administrative costs on OPD.

  • FACT: Almost every other state agency complies with the requirements of merit hiring with minimal issues. In fact, OPD attorneys are the largest group of at-will employees in the entire state.

  • MYTH #5: Core staff have fewer opportunities inside OPD because of merit status, and this bill will reduce those opportunities even more.

  • FACT: The many challenges that core staff face at OPD are the result of repeated budget cuts and neglect, not merit status. The MDU represents all OPD workers – attorneys, core staff, and social workers – and is committed to an agency where everyone can thrive. Merit status for attorneys will allow attorneys to speak up and support core staff and social workers in the face of internal racism, misogyny, bigotry, and unfairness without fear of retaliation.

  • MYTH #6: This bill would slow down the hiring process and increase caseloads for attorneys.

  • FACT: The primary driver of attorney caseloads is not how quickly attorneys are hired, but how many attorneys are hired, fired, transferred, demoted, or driven to quit. This bill will do nothing to limit attorney staffing levels. If anything, the protections and stability that merit status brings will likely improve the recruitment and retention of qualified attorneys and thereby reduce caseloads. 

  • MYTH #7: This bill will limit access to training opportunities and other programs inside OPD.

  • FACT: Merit status will have no impact on access to training and other OPD programs.

  • MYTH #8: OPD currently permits attorneys to be flexible in their assignments and move between offices or duties when faced with changing personal circumstances.

  • FACT: Countless OPD employees have been transferred against their will, denied a transfer, demoted, or even fired without any explanation from Administration. Merit status would bring much-needed accountability and transparency to the hiring and assigning process, thereby helping attorneys access a broader range of experience and opportunities across the agency. This in turn will help promote a sustainable model of representation for our clients, rather than the "do more with less" attitude that has dominated agency restructuring in recent years.

So now that you're a myth-busting expert, how can you show your support for SB757/HB1277? 

  • Write a letter to Maryland legislators asking them to support our bill! Click this link to open a draft email to all the Delegates and Senators on the committees considering our bills, then start writing! Email [email protected] if you need tips or assistance.