Florida's Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders are significantly undercompensated, as shown in findings from a Florida TaxWatch research report. The new report analyzes Assistant State Attorney and Assistant Public Defender pay across each of Florida's judicial circuits and finds that starting salaries in Florida fall well below the national average and are among the lowest in the country. The report finds that their low pay contributes to high turnover rates, causing delays in judicial processing and increased taxpayer investment in new employee training, costing taxpayers more than $15 million annually.
"If Florida expects our criminal justice system to deliver timely and effective justice, we must wisely invest in those who are responsible for carrying it out," said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog for the last 34 years. "Paying our Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders closer to the rest of the nation will ensure our tax dollars are not wasted on high turnover costs and lower productivity, and that our criminal justice system is in the best hands our state can find."
The pay shortage for Florida Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders ranges from $30,000 to $50,000 dollars in the first three years of employment, which causes average turnover rates that often exceed 20 percent. Due to extensive job duties and difficult demands associated with the positions, it costs taxpayers more to recruit and retrain replacement Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders than it would to increase starting salary.
If pay raises were given to increase starting salary to $50,000 for all Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders, it would only cost $5.2 million annually. If this higher starting pay cut turnover by 50 percent, it would save taxpayers $5 million.
"Increasing the starting pay for Florida's Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders is essential if we hope to attract and retain talented lawyers to administer the criminal justice system," said Dan McCarthy, Director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice. "Paying the lowest wages in the nation creates high staff turnover, which in turn delays justice and impacts public safety. Justice delayed is often justice denied."
Prosecutors and public defenders often incur sizeable debt to complete law school, and must pass the Florida bar examination before being eligible for appointment. However, their starting pay averages $41,700, which the report says is almost $20,000 less than the average starting annual salary for prosecutors and public defenders in states with comparable crime.
Florida TaxWatch is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan research institute that over its 33-year history has become widely recognized as the watchdog of citizens' hard-earned tax dollars. Its mission is to provide the citizens of Florida and public officials with high quality, independent research and education on government revenues, expenditures, taxation, public policies and programs and to increase the productivity and accountability of Florida state and local government. Its support comes from homeowners and retirees, small and large businesses, philanthropic foundations, and professional associations. On the web at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.