Category Archives: Human Resources

Public Defenders Seek Fair Retirement Classification

From L-R: Ziyad Hopkins, a staff attorney for CPCS, Mark Larsen, director of CPCS’s Mental Health Division, Pasqua Scibelli, a CPCS staff attorney with the Alternative Commitment and Registration Support Unit, and Norma Wassel, director of the agency’s social service advocacy, testify at the State House on Nov. 12, 2019.

Prosecutors and public defenders have stressful jobs, and both are frequently placed face-to-face with the trauma that inevitably surfaces when working in the criminal justice system. 

But when it comes to retirement, assistant district attorneys and those who work for the Committee for Public Counsel Services are treated much differently. Prosecutors receive enhanced retirement benefits, while CPCS staffers are placed in the lowest retirement classification of anyone in the courtroom.

In response, CPCS representatives went to the State House on Nov. 12 to ask for equal treatment.

“Our attorneys have to be exposed to the same emotionally stressful and traumatic events as the district attorneys, and therefore it is only fair that they are given the same rates of compensation, which includes the same retirement,” said Pasqua Scibelli, a CPCS staff attorney with the Alternative Commitment and Registration Support Unit.

Norma Wassel, director of social service advocacy for CPCS. asks lawmakers to “balance the scales of justice” when it comes to the agency’s retirement classification.

CPCS staffers and leadership testified before the Joint Committee on Public Service and described the need for retirement parity with state prosecutors – arguing that CPCS’s retirement classification should be shifted from Group 1 to Group 4. 

“I feel strongly that the job we do provides real justice in our system, but we have jobs where inherently there is stress and some physical danger,” said Norma Wassel, director of social service advocacy for CPCS. “I hope you would balance the scales of justice the way that we do.”

In 1996, state law was amended to include district attorneys and assistant district attorneys with 10 years of service in the Group 4 retirement classification. For years, CPCS has filed bills petitioning the Legislature to equal treatment for its attorneys, investigators and social workers.

Mark Larsen, director of CPCS’s Mental Health Division, said his attorneys experience “vicarious trauma” through their interactions with clients who “are at their most vulnerable and agitated when we meet with them.”

“One of our attorneys got a call from a very distressed client from one of the hospitals, and they were threatening suicide. She went and met with him for several hours. One of his concerns was that he couldn’t trust the staff,” Larsen said. “After several hours of working with this suicidal patient, he was able to return to his unit and eventually engaged with the staff. He was eventually discharged.”

Ziyad Hopkins, a staff attorney who has worked for CPCS for more than 20 years, said he has also received a call from a suicidal client. 

“I drove to the client’s house, and tried to help them in this time of crisis,” Hopkins said. “Luckily, I was able to. I am proud that people can turn to me, and I am proud to be in that role, but it takes a toll.” 

CPCS staff attorney Ziyad Hopkins tells lawmakers that public defenders often carry the trauma of their clients.

He added that changing CPCS’s retirement classification would help him with his two passions – the law and his family. 

“I am loyal to the rule of law, and I am proud to work with my brothers and sisters at the Bar and upholding the rule of law,” Hopkins said. “I am also devoted to my family – my wife and my two daughters – and believe the passage of this bill will allow me to honor both: My loyalty to the rule of law and the devotion to my family.”

In Memoriam: Pamela Webb

Pam Webb

On January 31, 2015, longtime CPCS employee, Pamela Jean Webb of Springfield, unexpectedly passed away. Pam worked as an Administrative Assistant at CPCS for 32 years.

Here is a fond remembrance of Pam from Alan Rubin, the Attorney in Charge of the Northampton office.

“After working for several years in the Springfield office, Pam came to Northampton as AA soon after this office opened and has been with us for 25 years. She really has been the heart and soul of this office. In our small office she has had to perform the roles of AA, secretary, receptionist, answering the phones, and many other tasks, but much more than this, her kindness and wisdom supported and guided all of us who have worked here. In our office we share case discussions amongst all of us and frequently Pam’s common sense insights helped focus the attorneys on the best way to proceed with difficult cases or problem clients.

Outside of the office Pam was a wife, mother, grandmother, and sibling. She was not only the matron of her own extended family but was always acting in that same role for neighbors, friends, and others who came ‘under her wing’. She was a community activist, working as a strong, determined, and persistent advocate on many issues of importance, but most particularly on issues involving education and on the needs of teen-age single mothers. Pam was planning to retire in a few months and was very much looking forward to future projects in these areas, as well as spending more time with her family. It is incredibly sad that she did not have the opportunity to accomplish these goals.

Everyone who would call or visit this office would comment on the very pleasant way that Pam would respond to callers. But this was not just a ‘phone persona’, she was like that in all her interactions with people—strangers as well as friends. This pleasant and calm personality was in no way an indication of weakness, as she was a very strong and forceful fighter for the things that mattered to her, as some recalcitrant school officials in Springfield learned to their discomfort.

Pam will be very much missed by her family, community, and those of us who have worked with her in Northampton.”

A memorial service, celebrating Pam’s life, was held on February 6, 2015. Many from the CPCS community attended the service.