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Buffalo-based law firm takes on corrections officers' union as client

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New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, Inc.
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Less than two months after the escape of inmates from an upstate prison began to shine light on deficiencies in the state’s prison system, the union that represents its officers has taken on new legal representation.

Buffalo-based Lippes Mathias Wexler and Friedman LLP has been retained by the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. The decision comes following the firm’s acquisition of Albany-based Sheehan Greene Golderman and Jacques LLP, which has been representing NYSCOPBA since the late 90s.

Dennis Vacco, former state attorney general turned partner with Lippes Mathias Wexler and Friedman LLP, says the Sheehan group was of a smaller scale and generally dealt with the union’s contract negotiations. With a combined workforce of approximately 100 people, he says Lippes Mathias Wexler and Friedman LLP will take on the negotiations, as well as disciplinary hearings and lobbying. VAcco made note of the lobbying aspect, pointing out that so much of what corrections officers deal with is a result of state mandate.

“Whether it’s state funding for sufficient corrections officers to man the various prisons through New York State, work rules, hours, other safety related issues. So it’s both a general outside counsel representation of the union, and a government affairs and lobbying practice,” said Vacco.

NYSCOPBA represents over 26,000 state employees and retirees. Vacco estimates about a third of them work or live in Western New York.

“Our ability to service the union and to service the individual members has been dramatically enhanced because of our presence here in Buffalo,” said Vacco.

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Credit File photo / WBFO News
Richard Matt & David Sweat escaped the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York in June.

Looking to the escape of inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in June, Vacco says the event was an anomaly, and that any deficiency in the prison was systemic of a breakdown in the corrections system.

“That’s why the Inspector General’s office of the Department of Corrections is now focused on what happened and what procedures and policies were followed and didn’t work, or what procedures and policies weren’t followed and might have prevented this,” said Vacco.

Vacco says it is the firm’s hope that once the analysis of the escape is completed, NYSCOPBA will share a seat at the table when new policies and procedures are drafted.