We attended the budget meeting between the Lake County Prosecutor’s office and the Commissioners. We heard the same issues with their office that we heard from the Probation department.
1. Their starting salaries are far too low, and, therefore, they have difficulty competing with the Lake County Public Defender’s office and other counties. The current salary for a new lawyer out of law school is $60,000 for the Public Defender, and $47,600 for the Prosecutor’s office. No one one sure how and when the disparity in pay occurred.
2. They are also losing experienced lawyers to other counties because of low salaries. It takes 3 – 5 years to get a rookie lawyer “up to speed”. It was stated that law school prepares the rookie to pass the bar, but only experience provides the real training to become an effective prosecutor.
3. There has been a tremendous increase in the workload for the existing 32 [LFC Comment: that’s right, 32 lawyers needed to handle the crime in Lake County – good grief we had no idea the size of the staff required]. In 2018, there were 830 criminal felony cases, but in 2019 the number of cases grew to 1,400! The number of serious and complicated cases are increasing – placing even additional demands on the shrinking pool of lawyers. The position is far from a 40 hour per week job, The demands of the position requires them to work week-ends and evenings since they work closely with local police departments that have three shifts.
It was stated that 80% – 90% of the Lake County cases handled by the Prosecutor’s Office is “drug driven.” (their phrase)
The Prosecutor would like to raise the starting salary to $55,000 per year. This equates to a total increase of $96,000 in the annual budget. The Prosecutor’s office prefers to hire young lawyers out of law school so that they can be trained to the exacting standards of the Lake County office. It also impossible to hire someone with experience, unless they have lost the “fire in the belly” and just looking to pump up their PERS pension, because of the low compensation.
(LFC Comment: We are a bit confused why they did not seek to raise the starting salary to compete with the Public Defender. The defender’s position is more about really reacting to what the Prosecution has to discover and develop.)