Justice System Salaries Revisited

After our recent post on Massachusetts public defender and assistant district attorney salaries, we were interested to hear more from Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti, and Deputy Chief Counsel Public Defender Division Randy Gioia, for the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) at our March Council meeting.

We learned more about the structure and operation of CPCS:

CPCS attorneys represent adult criminals, juvenile delinquents, and about a third of CPCS’ budget goes to representing civil clients primarily in family law and mental health cases.

In the last two to three years, CPCS has seen big changes in the delivery system of indigent defense.  In 2011, Governor Patrick proposed eliminating the private bar altogether from this practice area.  In Fiscal Year 2012, the legislature mandated that CPCS staff attorneys handle 25% of all indigent defense cases, with the private bar picking up the rest.  Today, CPCS is well on its way to meeting the legislature’s 25% target, having handled just under 23% of cases last year.  CPCS is still hiring to meet the legislature’s mandate but if the case load demand increases, they will have to hire more staff and attorneys to meet the growing need.

One of the biggest challenges the organization faces is attrition.  As its size has grown to meet the increased case load requirements, so have the number of departing employees.  Last year the number of staff leaving increased by 13%; a large percentage of those were attorneys, most before their third year with CPCS or, as experienced attorneys know, just as they are beginning to return value as attorneys who can handle the intricacies of legal practice with minimal supervision.

The reason for this exodus seems to be clear – the salaries.  An internal CPCS survey revealed that its attorneys average $140,000 in debt.  Furthermore, 37% have a second job and 73% have borrowed money from family or friends to make ends meet.  This year, CPCS is proposing a plan to gradually increase starting attorney salaries from $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

As Randy Gioia pointed out to our Council, with more than a third of their attorneys needing a second job just to make ends meet, the clients may suffer most.  Practicing law is a more than full-time job on its own; it’s all-consuming at times.  Speaking from his own experience, Randy reminded us that public defenders and assistant district attorneys should be wholly focused on pursuing justice for their clients.

- Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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