Florida’s Madison County Courthouse Credit: Creative Commons
Florida’s legal agencies — state attorneys and public defenders — still suffer from high turnover rates and are looking for additional funds, particularly for salary increases.
“The number one priority of the public defenders this year is a salary increase for assistant public defenders,” said Stacy Scott, the public defender in Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit, as well as the vice president of the Florida Public Defenders Association. Their ask is a salary bump from an average of $64,000 to $75,000 for assistant public defenders.
Scott told the House Justice Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday that recent funding increases in the Legislature have stemmed some of the bleeding when it comes to the turnover of attorneys in those offices. But it’s still steep — from 27% after the pandemic to 23% currently.
Scott said that losing qualified attorneys is the greatest inefficiency in the public defenders’ system and the overall criminal justice system in Florida.
“Every time we lose an attorney, we have to retrain a brand-new attorney,” she told lawmakers, adding that finding new attorneys has been challenging as the number of applications to public defenders’ offices across the state have dropped in recent years.
“Every time we lose an experienced attorney, we have to re-assign those cases and give them to an existing attorney position, who then has a greater case load, and it causes the cases to backlog and slowdown, which affects all aspects of our criminal justice system.”
Last session the Legislature allocated $24.8 million to prove pay increases of up to 10% to recruit and retain assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders and conflict counsel attorneys.
In the 2022-2023 state budget, Florida prosecutors and assistant public defenders received raises, with some between $5,000 to $10,000, along with an inflation increase of five percent.
Jack Campbell, the state attorney from Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit and the president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, praised the Legislature for those funding increases, saying that they had reduced the turnover rates in the 20 state attorneys’ offices in Florida from 25% to 20%.
But he said that with the state adding more population in recent years, there’s been a corresponding increase in cases that state attorneys have to prosecute.
Campbell also made a pitch to lawmakers to increase funding to offset the inflation that all Floridians have suffered through over the past several years. He said the rate in Florida is at 6.3%, and if the Legislature doesn’t act, “we’re going to take a 6% haircut just because of inflation.”
Another state legal office that has a backlog of vacancies is with Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office.
John Guard, the Chief Deputy Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General, said that office currently has 98 attorney vacancies.
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