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Front Page » Government » Pay for state attorney office called ‘crisis level’

Pay for state attorney office called ‘crisis level’

Written by on February 5, 2019
  • www.miamitodaynews.com
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Pay for state attorney office called ‘crisis level’

Miami-Dade commissioners are urging the Florida Legislature to financially aid employees at the county’s state attorney and public defender offices, as pay there has “reached a crisis level,” according to Don Horn, chief assistant state attorney.

Mr. Horn told commissioners Tuesday that pay insufficient to match the cost of living in the county has his office bleeding more than a fifth of its lawyers annually.

In response, commissioners approved a last-minute item sponsored by Rebeca Sosa calling for state lawmakers to supplement employee pay at the offices of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and, after an amendment from Sally Heyman, Public Defender Carlos Martinez.

Last year, Mr. Horn said, the state attorney’s office shed 62 lawyers, or 22% of its total law staff not counting support personnel – double the turnover rate listed in a 2004 report by Florida TaxWatch.

“To put that into some context for you, there are state attorney offices elsewhere in the state [that] don’t have 62 lawyers in their entire office,” he said. “I hire a midsize law firm every year.”

Lawyer salaries at the state attorney’s office start at $41,500, Mr. Horn said. New hires are often fresh out of law school and carrying $100,000 in debt.

According to Glassdoor.com, an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade as of Jan. 19 earns $45,860. The national average, the site shows, is about $70,000 – a more than 52% difference.

Such inferior pay, Mr. Horn said, translates into substandard representation for residents.

“Our victims are your constituents, and the difference between having an attorney who’s had 10 years of experience and one who’s got five [or] three years of experience is based directly on our ability to retain the staff we have, not just the attorneys,” he said. “Those low salaries are resulting in some exorbitant attrition numbers for our office.”

In October, Ms. Fernandez Rundle called the pay appropriated to lawyers in her office “an embarrassment,” citing skyrocketing nationwide college tuitions and increasingly probative housing costs in Miami-Dade.

And support staff has it even worse, she said.

“A secretary here starts at around $23,000,” she said. “That’s probably welfare-level. Some probably are on food stamps.”

The last thing a county on the financial upswing should do, she said, is shortchange its legal defenders.

“We’re asking businesses from all over the country and the world to move their families here,” she said. “[We have] the lowest crime rate in 25 years, but [you have] to sustain an office.”

In November, Mr. Martinez, whose office subsists on a $30 million annual budget in handling an average yearly workload of 75,000 cases, echoed Ms. Fernandez Rundle’s sentiments.

In 2017, he said, his office shed 41 attorneys, for whom it was only able to hire 35 as replacements.

“[I lose] a tremendous number of lawyers,” he said. “If I had more appropriate salaries, I could keep people longer, to the point that they would decide, ‘This is not only something I want to do for my life and to dedicate myself to, but I can also provide for my family.’”

3 Responses to Pay for state attorney office called ‘crisis level’

  1. Alix Dumas-Pierre Jr

    February 8, 2019 at 11:09 am

    I agree with Mr. Horn. The cost of living is going up and the salary at the state attorney’s office isn’t increasing at the same time. There’s a problem in Miami-Dade, the average home cost 350,000 and the average state employee makes 30,000 a year how can you live? This is one of the reasons family can’t get by because everyone in the household needs to contribute and if they have an emergency the family is in danger of losing their home. Something needs to be done.

  2. Alejandro Devenos

    February 15, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    My daughter is employed by this office as an assistant state attorney so it gives me pleasure to read on paper what she has been saying to me for years. This is a great article, and the author is on to something. Keep digging and you will be rewarded with a great story. This is the tip of the Miami iceberg. The office is wrongfully shifting all blame to the state. I am forced to reply.
    Low wages are not among all employees, a few dozen in the administration are making exponentially more than the average, not coincidentally, those in the inner circle and the “chosen units of self preservation”. This can easily be verified thru a public records request of salaries of all employees. Notice who has the big money and where they work. There are even some employees that have retired, collect pensions and have been deemed “contractors” making over $150,000 a year. Entire units that do not investigate, try cases or deal with victims in any way shape or form should be disbanded. This is not chump change, we are easily talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, perhaps into the million$. Resources that can go to help victims, retain prosecutors and staff, and assure cases get tried and violent offenders get convicted. The self promotion costs of the state attorney herself; the bus promoting her name/face, the entire community outreach division (COD), vans wrapped in her face and name, her daily 24 hour driver. (a highly paid Investigator with overtime) Yet, there is never any money for victim or witness protection when it is necessary. My daughter has one foot out the door and the reason is not money. She loves the work, but unfortunately the lack of leadership has become unbearable. She gets no support on difficult cases,
    Ie. uncooperative police officers who care only up to the point of arrest, who abandon cases and make proper prosecution impossible. The result is that victims and witnesses disappear, are often successfully tampered with, or do not cooperate further. This severely reduces the likelihood of conviction making the county less safe.

    To illustrate the diva aspect of KFR; I was visiting my daughter at work and the elevator was held for her as she exited her new, personal driver-operated and county-funded Cadillac as she made her way into the building from the parking lot. Folks, I swear, the only thing missing was a red carpet! No one else was allowed in the elevator with her and we were asked to wait for the next available, which took awkward minutes as a new elevator wont come down until the one being held for her was released. By then a small crowd of attorneys, victims and staff were delayed while the princess rose to her castle, alone with her bodyguard. She was even incapable of pushing the elevator button herself; aggravating, insulting and selfish. This silly, daily example shows you exactly who she is.

    Perhaps the administration should allocate their limited resources in a more intelligent manner, focusing on prosecuting violent crimes and less on administrative mumbo jumbo that does nothing for county victims of crime. Entire units that do not investigate, try cases or deal with victims in any way shape or form can and should be disbanded, community outreach and child support especially. The self promotion costs of the state attorney, the bus, her daily driver, her county car, are merely the beginning.

    This office wastes the talents of dozens of state attorney prosecutors to run a child support unit that aggressively criminalizes failure to pay, decreasing offenders’ likelihood to have or keep a job, making the chances of payment even more impossible. These prosecutors could be used to prosecute ACTUAL victims of ACTUAL crimes instead, not deadbeat dads that mostly don’t have the money anyway. In countless ways the state attorney wastes valuable resources on activities that do nothing for victims of crimes.

  3. Tami

    February 15, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    Same in Broward County!! Support staff is getting paid crumbs!! Many work 2 jobs, are on Food Stamps. I’m sure many are eligible for Welfare.

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