Public defenders work hard, too
Monday, May 12, 2014 - 12:23 pm

To the Editor:

I was in attendance at the County Board meeting on Monday May 5, 2014. Information was provided to the board and public, by District Attorney Mary Rain, that was misleading and incorrect.

Assistant district attorneys do work hard. As does every other dedicated civil servant working for the County, including those represented by St. Lawrence County Indigent Defenders (SLCID). The SLCID is comprised of the staff attorneys of the St. Lawrence County Public Defender’s Office and the Conflict Defender’s Office.

Historically, the county had a salary schedule for attorneys based on education, training and experience. Salaries for public servants must be determined fairly, based upon measurable factors, otherwise the result will be unfairness to both employees and taxpayers.

Although (District Attorney) Ms. Rain contends her staff is available round the clock, seven days a week, this is not the case. Ms. Rain sent a letter to “All City, Town, and Village Justices.” The letter states, in part: “During the month of January I will not be sending an ADA to local courts except Ogdensburg, Massena, and Gouverneur.” There are 36 city, town and village courts in St. Lawrence County. During January 2014, the public defender and conflict defender sent criminal defense attorneys to all 36 courts without interruption.

To put the record straight, in 2013, the six lawyers in the Public Defender’s Office alone worked in excess of 2,000 hours for which they received no compensation at all.

Ms. Rain was mistaken when she claimed that public defenders make more money than assistant district attorneys. All attorneys working for the county were on the same salary schedule in 2013, with a few deviations for special circumstances. After the formation of SLCID, union, the employees of the Public Defender’s office and the Conflict Defender’s Office have received no raises. In January 2014, the assistant district attorneys received raises and on a 2014 pay scale, while defense attorneys are still on a 2013 pay scale.

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. Compensation should be based upon experience, hours and supervisors’ evaluations.

If there is any question whether attorneys in any county department are being fairly compensated, the Department of Civil Service should conduct desk audits of the various attorney positions so proper compensation can be determined.

Steven Ballan, President

St. Lawrence County Indigent Defenders