It's been a long time in coming, but help finally appears to be on the way for local prosecutor offices around the state. And the fact that the Republican-dominated budget-writing committee took …
It's been a long time in coming, but help finally appears to be on the way for local prosecutor offices around the state.
And the fact that the Republican-dominated budget-writing committee took action in unanimous fashion emphasizes the importance of the issue and the likelihood that Gov. Tony Evers will approve.
The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to give state prosecutors and public defenders a pay raise of $8.76 an hour — equal to $18,221 a year — as both fight vacancy rates that advocates say have led to slowdowns in the criminal justice system.
The move also boosted starting pay for assistant public defenders and public defenders to $74,880, up from $56,659.
Backers called the proposed investment historic, while Republicans noted it exceeds what Evers proposed. His budget called for increasing pay by $7.76 an hour for prosecutors and public defenders.
Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, who ran for state attorney general last year as a Republican and is president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, joined GOP committee members ahead of the vote to praise the proposal. Toney lost to Dem Attorney General Josh Kaul.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this is going to be a transformational budget for us to help retain and recruit amazing prosecutors to help keep our communities safe, working hand in hand with law enforcement,” Toney said.
The package comes after several budgets in which district attorneys, public defenders, the court system and the state Department of Justice have joined forces to lobby the Legislature for a series of funding priorities they have argued are essential to an efficient criminal justice system.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 22.6 percent of assistant district attorneys left the job in fiscal year 2021 for reasons other than retirement. That dropped to 14.7 percent in fiscal year 2022, but it was still nearly double the 7.4 percent turnover rate in fiscal year 2014.
For assistant state public defenders, the rate was 23.7 percent in fiscal year 2021 and 18.9 percent in fiscal year 2022, compared to 3.9 percent in fiscal year 2014.
“Being able to recruit and retain the attorneys and staff necessary to ensure the constitutional rights that are protected is a core responsibility of state government,” said State Public Defender Kelli
In all, the package would increase funding for the district attorneys by $21.2 million and for public defenders by $36 million.
*$18.3 million to fund the pay increases for assistant district attorneys.
*$926,200 in 2024-25 to increase hourly compensation for elected district attorneys.
*$18.4 million for pay increase for public defenders.
*$487,300 to provide additional assistant DA positions in: Langlade, Oneida, Ozaukee, Kenosha and Sauk counties.
*$17.6 million to increase private bar attorney compensation.
Under state law, those who don’t qualify for a state public defender, but are unable to afford a lawyer on their own, are still entitled to publicly funded representation. First, the State Public Defender tries
to find a private attorney to take the case. If one can’t be found, a judge then appoints an attorney.
The compensation rate for those private attorneys appointed by the State Public Defender is now $70 an hour. Under the motion approved today, that would go up to $100 an hour, while travel compensation would double to $50 an hour.
That $100 an hour would match the rate that private attorneys receive when a judge appoints them to have a case.
GOP state Sen. Eric Wimberger, a lawyer, said the current rate of $70 an hour creates a disincentive for private attorneys to take cases until a judge appoints someone at $100 an hour. That cost is borne by
Wimberger said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a backlog in court cases that’s still being resolved. The proposed increase, he said, would help iron that out because it “is really going to incentivize people to take cases early, get the justice done that needs to be done.”
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