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Salaries for district attorney’s and public defender’s offices should retain good staffers

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In her campaign last year to keep her position as district attorney for St. Lawrence County, Nicole M. Duve said one of the challenges in retaining good staff members was the low pay they received.

This is one point on which Ms. Duve’s opponent and eventual successor, Mary E. Rain, agrees. After taking over the office, Ms. Rain has started lobbying for higher salaries for her assistant district attorneys. She proposed pay increases to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators.

“The proposed pay raises, which would be effective March 29, represented percentage increases that ranged from 13 percent to 23 percent. Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard’s salary would go from $80,816 to $98,575, making him paid more than any department head,” according to a Sunday story in the Watertown Daily Times. “The raises would total about $48,000. Despite the increase, the raises would be $28,000 less than the 2014 budget for the DA’s office allowed because they are not for the entire year.”

But legislators delayed action on the requested pay raises during a May 5 meeting when Steven G. Ballan, president of the county Indigent Defenders, said that information provided to board members by Ms. Rain was inaccurate.

“Unfortunately, paying prosecutors more will not increase the performance of the individual attorneys nor increase the conviction rate, any more than paying defense attorneys more will increase the percentage of not guilty verdicts,” Mr. Ballan wrote in a news release issued May 9. “Compensation should be based upon experience, hours and supervisors’ evaluations.”

This prompted Ms. Rain to issue her own news release.

“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,” the news release read. “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.”

Following the May 5 meeting, Ms. Rain said county public defenders make more money than do assistant district attorneys. Mr. Ballan disputed this claim.

As detailed by both Ms. Duve and now Ms. Rain, it’s difficult for the county to keep good assistant district attorneys if they don’t receive reasonable salaries. This forces the district attorney to frequently spend time training new staff members and looking for ways to compensate for the loss of experience. While the county does not possess unlimited revenue for salaries, the St. Lawrence District Attorney’s Office must have the best people possible to ensure effective prosecutions.

At the same time, the county cannot deny the Public Defender’s Office the resources it needs in offering criminal suspects the best defense they can get. Making sure the criminal justice system is fair and efficient for everyone is crucial, and access to good legal representation is a big part of this.

County officials should be able to determine whose assertions are truthful and who is embellishing a claim. They need to ensure employees of both offices are fairly compensated to safeguard the system from low morale and lack of experience.

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