Under a plan proposed by Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, the starting salary for assistant district attorneys and public defenders in Wisconsin will be $36 an hour. The proposal is $1 more than Gov. Tony Evers put in the executive budget.
The Consolidated Finance Committee unanimously approved the plan, which is intended to alleviate staffing shortages, address outstanding Wisconsin litigation issues, and prevent a potential constitutional crisis.
“Our budget will be invested in our criminal justice system to ensure it runs efficiently,” JFC co-chair Rep. Mark Vaughn (R-Beaverdam) said in a press conference ahead of the meeting. rice field. “We understand the importance of this funding to our communities and to ensuring we have safe, constitutionally protected places to live, work and feed our families.”
Currently, assistant district attorneys and public defenders in Wisconsin start at $27.24 an hour, or about $56,000 a year.Wages have increased by about 15% since his 2012, according to one report, but inflation has more than doubled for him in the same period. report By Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Salaries are lower than private lawyers. According to data from the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics Survey, the average wage for Wisconsin attorneys is $115,336 annually, equivalent to $55.45 per hour.
Low salaries and heavy workloads for state attorneys contribute to understaffing, high turnover, and a high backlog of criminal cases. In Wisconsin, 35,000+ The backlog was cited in a class action lawsuit filed against Evers and members of the Wisconsin Public Election Commission by eight plaintiffs who had been waiting for a designated attorney for weeks or months.
A Wisconsin court in January warned of an impending “constitutional crisis,” saying its members were concerned about staffing and funding issues facing Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, and asked the state legislature to provide a budget. asked to address this issue.
“Don’t get me wrong, this is a defining moment for those who believe in our Constitution,” the statement said. “This is about victims waiting too long for justice. This is about people accused of crimes and imprisoned without the ability to uphold their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. This is about hard-working state employees reporting mental fatigue and work stressors that affect their personal lives.”
Under the plan, all assistant district attorneys and public defenders will receive an $8.76 pay raise.
In addition to higher salaries for state employees, the Republican bill also considers increasing salaries for private attorneys who handle cases appointed by the public defender from $70 to $100 an hour. He also doubles his travel compensation from $25 to $50 an hour. Mr. Evers also included the same proposal in his budget.
When asked to comment on the Republican proposal, Evers’ office representative Britt Kudavek pointed to a Twitter thread posted ahead of the committee meeting in which Evers called on lawmakers to invest in judicial talent. rice field.
“Unless we provide new resources to recruit and retain qualified and experienced professionals, our judicial system will continue to face a constitutional crisis.” Evers said on Twitter:. “Our budget must strengthen the judicial staff and include support for defense attorneys, prosecutors and other key positions.”
The plan has the support of four Democrats on the committee, and Rep. Evan Goyk (D-Milwaukee) said he was “encouraged” to see the state’s criminal justice system’s voice heard. Stated.
“This is an important step for the justice system. Funding these positions is critical. [attorneys] And the staff of the public prosecutor’s office and the public defender’s office,” Goike said during the meeting. “While I will vote YES on this motion and support what the Republicans have proposed, please remember that we still have work to do to support the agency. ”
Mr. Goyk said some of Mr. Evers’ original plans had been cut back, including adding support, more administrative staff and adding a post for the prosecutor’s office.
Mr. Evers proposed spending $6.3 million to fund 50 additional staff positions to support state defense attorneys, but that was dropped entirely from the Republican plan. Evers also proposed spending more than $8 million to add assistant district attorney posts statewide. Instead, Republicans appropriated $486,000 to offices in Langlade, Oneida, Ozaukee, Kenosha, and Sauk counties.
Wisconsin public defender Kelly Thompson called the Republican proposal “a historic investment in the justice system and public safety.”
“With these resources, we expect to retain some of the most experienced and hardworking attorneys in the state and secure dozens of vacancies at both the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office,” Thompson said. At a press conference on Tuesday, he said: “Ultimately, ensuring the justice system is adequately resourced is a direct investment in individual liberty, due process, and public safety for communities around Wisconsin.”
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