Tag Archives: District Attorney

Justice System Salaries: Public Defenders and State Prosecutors

When we talk about funding our justice system, we include our state courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and also civil legal aid attorneys.  On Tuesday, February 11th, the Joint House and Senate Committees on Ways & Means held a budget hearing. Representatives from every piece of the justice system were on hand to testify.

The CPCS budget request for Fiscal Year 2015 is a maintenance request of $206.6 million, plus an additional $12 million to fund a pay increase for both CPCS staff attorneys and private bar advocates.  The CPCS budget request would increase the starting salary for staff attorneys from $40,000 to $50,000 and would also effectuate an hourly rate increase for bar advocates.  Here’s the breakdown: a $5/hour increase for murder cases, superior court cases — including sexually dangerous persons cases — and care and protection/termination of parental rights cases.  The hourly rate for all other cases would be increased by $2/hour.

CPCS does not look like it did in 2011 when the Legislature mandated that 25% of all indigent assigned cases be handled by staff attorneys.  It has grown significantly and staff attorneys are handling close to that 25% caseload target.  In 2011, there were 282 staff attorneys; today there are 482.

It’s no secret that public defenders working for CPCS and our assistant district attorneys are paid woefully low salaries.  A public defender’s salary starts at $40,000 and an assistant district attorney’s salary starts even lower at $37,500.  This compensation ranks Massachusetts 41st nationally for entry level salaries for public defenders.  When adjusted by the cost-of-living index, Massachusetts is dead last.

An attorney doesn’t accept a position with CPCS or a District Attorney’s office because it pays well.  Both of these jobs require sacrifice and commitment to an ideal. Public defenders have made a commitment to uphold the constitutional right to counsel ensured by our federal and state constitutions.  Assistant District Attorneys have made a commitment to serving the interests of the Commonwealth by prosecuting alleged criminal behavior.

But the low starting pay is only part of the problem.  The ability to retain experienced prosecutors and public defenders has become a challenge.    Significant time and resources are spent training lawyers who then leave for jobs paying much more.

These facts beg the question: what impact do these low salaries have on attrition? How do they affect the overall system’s ability to deliver justice efficiently and effectively?  We are pleased that CPCS has decided it’s time to revisit raising salaries.  Both our public defenders and our state prosecutors deserve adequate compensation.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Inadequate Funding Threatens Delivery of Justice in MA

When the BBA speaks publicly about the state budget, we are generally talking about funding that impacts the Massachusetts legal system.  Specifically, that means advocating for funding for: the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), District Attorneys’ offices, legal services and the Judiciary.  It is incumbent on us – the private bar – to ensure that these four groups receive the resources necessary to function properly.  The BBA advocates annually for these groups and, lately, our advocacy efforts have continued year-round.

The demand on the legal system has never been greater.  At a time when governments are forced to slash budgets, more people who depend on public services are being turned away.  The legal system is often a place of last resort where people exercise their constitutional rights to seek relief in areas of housing, children’s services, employment matters, etc.  All across the board – from public defenders to prosecutors, from legal service attorneys to the courts – the legal system has suffered heavy losses in resources while trying to stay on top of rising caseloads.

Here’s why we need these four areas of the state budget adequately funded:

The right to appointed counsel for indigent persons is fundamental under our federal and state constitutions.  Massachusetts is obligated to provide competent legal counsel to every indigent person charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment, and CPCS is the state agency that manages these responsibilities.  The size of the budget needed to fulfill this obligation is dictated by the number of cases that are assigned to the public and private divisions of CPCS by Massachusetts courts.

In line with our commitment to the right to counsel is our commitment to ample funding for the prosecutors’ offices that seek justice in every case.  Without adequate funding for the state’s eleven district attorneys’ offices the effective prosecution of crime in Massachusetts would surely be compromised.

State funding for civil legal services is, in part, appropriated through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line item.  MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth, funding 17 legal aid programs that provide information, advice and representation to low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems.  Though MLAC also receives money from IOLTA revenue, the decline in real estate transactions – the largest contributors to IOLTA accounts – has caused this source of revenue to fall dramatically.

At the core of our legal system is the Judiciary, without which justice simply could not prevail.  As a separate branch of the government, the Judiciary is fully dependent on tax dollars for its operation.  The Massachusetts state courts are funded through state budget appropriations.  Today, the Governor signed a supplemental budget that provides some additional money to our woefully underfunded courts. But it’s still not enough.  The additional funding gives the courts some relief from the mounting pressure to do more with less.  It is welcome news to those who have become accustomed to budgetary disappointment.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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