The Joint Finance Committee unanimously approved major raises for public defenders and assistant district attorneys on Tuesday May 16 – a major step toward a bipartisan priority during budget discussions.
Under the plan, starting pay for both jobs would increase to $36 an hour, or about $75,000 a year. Currently, starting pay for assistant district attorneys and public defenders is $27.24 an hour, or about $57,000 a year – it would be a raise of 18,000 dollars.
In his budget proposal, Governor Tony Evers proposed raising the hourly wage to $35 an hour, or about $73,000 a year. Evers had previously said that he would consider vetoing the whole budget if these raises were cut from his plan – instead, they’ve been raised.
Legislative liaison for the State Public Defenders Office Adam Plotkin tells WTMJ he’s pleased with Tuesday’s result.
“Making sure that we have adequate resources in both the public defenders office and the prosecutors offices statewide really is an investment in public safety,” he said.
Plotkin said that his office has been facing a turnover rate that has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, which is made worse by receiving half as many applicants for those open jobs. This is contributing to a 35,000-strong backlog of cases in the legal system in Wisconsin.
“Not having the resources there to do that work really negatively impacts not only those who are involved in the justice system but public safety at large,” Plotkin said.
If the plan is signed into law as part of the budget, Plotkin is hoping to make an impact on those problems facing both sides of the legal system.
“What we’re hoping to do with this is not only retain the attorneys we have, who know how to handle a large caseload,” he said, “but to fill the 50-plus vacancies we have which will in turn reduce the workload on the existing staff.”