CANTON - The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators tabled a decision on raising salaries for assistant district attorneys after Republicans complained Monday that Democrats were pushing a vote on an issue without proper review.
That move sparked responses Tuesday from St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain and St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee Chairman Mark Bellardini.
The District Attorneys Office released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
Last night, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators was offered a resolution which would restructure salaries for county Assistant District Attorneys.
Opponents raised the issue of poor timing and lack of county funds. However, this resolution does not increase the money budgeted to this office for the year of 2014,Ms. Rain said.
Even with the increases in grade, we will still come under budget by approximately $28,000. According to the U.S. Bar Association, the minimum recommended number of ADAs is 1 per 10,000 of population. Therefore, the recommended minimum number of ADAs in St. Lawrence County would be 11.
I have not asked for additional funds to hire new ADAs – simply to adequately compensate my ADAs for the talent and experience I have attracted.
Rain challenged other departments. Im not here with my hand out - I have provided solutions and a plan, with cost-effective measures.
Another issue raised was the comparison of ADAs with other county attorneys. To differentiate, prosecutors are tasked with a great responsibility of not only ensuring that justice is served, but that it is done so in a fair, efficient, and cost effective manner.
This job requires a 24/7 commitment,Ms. Rain said.
ADAs are required to manage their caseload and appear in local or county court, while they are prepping for trials, responding to motions and interviewing victims and witnesses. ADAs are always on call, requiring them to provide bail recommendations to local court judges at arraignment, respond to vehicle crash sites to assist with fatal accident collisions, and visit and assist at crime scenes, such as meth labs.
This county simply cannot afford inexperienced ADAs.Turnover costs money. The previous administration turned over its attorney staff every 18 months, leading to significant backlogs, speedy trial dismissals and poor conviction rates. For example, last year, the DWI conviction rate in St. Lawrence County ranked 49th out of 62 counties. This is unacceptable, and has been a priority for this administration, said Ms. Rain.
During my campaign for District Attorney, I emphasized the need for a restructuring of the office and the way crimes are prosecuted in St. Lawrence County,Ms. Rain stated. I have assembled a team of experienced litigators with a total of 115 years of legal skill. In only four months, this has resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of felony cases pending on the courts docket, ultimately resulting in reduced cost to the county for assigned counsel, probation services, and housing defendants awaiting trial.
Sheriff Kevin Wells stated at a recent Board of Legislators meeting that his jail population has steadily decreased, especially in the last month and a half. This is significant since this is when the experienced ADAs started.
Legislator Fred Morrill cited that if the jail population decreased by five prisoners in one year, this would amount to a cost savings of $182,500.
The need to maintain attorney and staff continuity is an absolute necessity for this county. Without addressing adequate ADA salaries, the recurring issue of turnover and inexperience will continue to loom.
This is a matter of public safety - the citizens of St. Lawrence County deserve to feel safe in their community. But most important, said Ms. Rain, the victims of crimes deserve the best attorneys – how could we ever provide less?
Mr. Bellardini issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
The need to move the DAs office to a scale of pay that will retain ADs in St. Lawrence is a top priority for the Democratic Party.
In the last eight years, the DAs officehas literally trained 30 ADAs who have moved on for higher pay and consequently ithas left SLC shorthanded to fight the growing drug problem it faces today.
The drugproblem and drug trafficking in SLC has become overwhelming and endangers ourchildren every day.
Last night (Monday) in our attempt to bring these salary increases to the DAsoffice, the Republicans played politics stating that we were out of procedure andcomparing other departments with the DAs office.
These are small-time excuses andsmall-time politics at a time our police agencies and DAs office needs our support themost.
Democrats that supported the tabling of this resolution did so only for proceduralissues so it may be brought back up by one of them because they fear it will be stuck insub-committee by the administration and never moved forward.
We will not let thathappen and will support the DAs office and law enforcement in their fight to controlthe growing drug problem in SLC.