Local Politics

Bill would give judges, DAs a recruiting tool: money

Posted June 23, 2008

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— A bill making its way through the legislature would fix what judges and prosecutors say is a huge problem in recruiting and keeping top-quality people – the lowest court-system salaries in the nation and wages far below private-sector pay.

“The median law school graduate out of Carolina is making $100,000 a year. And the median out of Duke is making $110,000 a year. The district attorneys are able to offer around $39,000 a year to be an assistant district attorney,” said Joe Buckner, chief district court judge in Orange and Chatham counties.

The bill in the General Assembly is designed to bring all of North Carolina's judicial salaries in line with other states, starting at the top.

“It would not, by any stretch of the imagination, make them extraordinarily highly paid individuals,” state Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said. It would, however, help courts compete for the best and the brightest legal talent.

“When we get decent salary structures, and we've got logical salary structures, you're able to better attract people like that. But more importantly, you're better able to retain them once you get them into the system,” Blue added.

In an interview with “NC Wanted” in January, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall talked about the disruption facing his staff while they were in the middle of a major case.

“I lost one prosecutor to a job in the private sector paying her almost twice what I could pay her. I lost one prosecutor to the U.S. Attorney's Office, paying more with better benefits than I can provide,” Woodall said.

In the state House, Blue is sponsoring the bill. It’s current version, according to the legislative online records, would set a higher salary for the Supreme Court chief justice at $150,000 and a new pay scale for everyone else based on a percentage of that number. District attorneys would be paid $131,991.

In the Senate, Sen. Daniel G. Clodfelter, D-Mecklenberg, is sponsoring a matching bill.

The bills are in the two chambers’ Appropriations Committees. If the new salary structure passes, Blue said, it would take affect in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

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  • yruatwit Jun 24, 2008

    "Steve Crisp", You're very convincing via your posts. And I am especially impressed by your articulation and proper use of grammar. It gives a great credibility to your opinions (of which I almost always tend to agree). Thanks for bringing an intellctually elevated element to this venue.

  • phiokuli Jun 24, 2008

    Public Defender of Wake County some should get more money and others not. I had a lawyer from there and never saw them. someone different was there everytime i went to court.

  • twixandbetwwen Jun 24, 2008

    I am in favor of them getting higher wages; however, they should be made to promise that cases will be tried much quicker. Murder and Rape Charges should have to wait no more than sixty days to be tried. Also, there should be only two state trials on on these crimes and only Federal trial should be allowed for this type crime. Child Abuse should be tried in thirty days.

  • Steve Crisp Jun 24, 2008

    While it is a nice gesture for Dan Blue and other politicians to want to increase pay for DAs -- as needed as that is -- this is nothing more than a political ploy, a shell game, designed to pad a campaign resume. They are putting a small, round bandaid on a problem that needs a neurosurgical team to fix.

    I want our politicians to start fixing our problems, in most cases, problems that they themselves created in the first place.

    But it's not gonna happen. It's far more important for our elected officials to retain their bribe-seats, I mean, elected offices via legitimate legislation that helps our citizens than it is to enact laws which really do nothing, but look good on paper. Or in the paper.

  • Steve Crisp Jun 24, 2008

    Consider, though, the underlying issues involved in the courts and the problems it faces. Most every court rule is designed to go against the defendent simply because providing a truly fair trial is too expensive. For instance:

    Did you know that someone charged with a misdeamenor is NOT entitled to pre-trial discovery? Yes, that's right. If you are charged with a crime in which you can go to jail, pay fines, be put on probation, or potentially lose a professional license upon conviction, you are not entitled to see the evidence against you until you actually appear in court for the trial itself.

    Or if you are a victim of a crime, you have no right to employ and attorney of your choosing to act as DA for your case. You are forced to accept whatever the state tosses into the courtroom, which, but existing standards, looks like a lowest-bidder situation. Do you really want your day of justice to be handled by someone straight out of law school?

  • Steve Crisp Jun 24, 2008

    The problems with our court system go far deeper than sub-standard pay for DAs and assistant DAs.

    We need far more courtrooms, criminal and civil, domestic, traffic, small claims, district and superior. We need far more judges to handle to increased case load. We need so many more court personnel that it is actually hard to come up with number -- clerks, reporters, runners, trial assistants, witness coordinators, and a whole slew of other folks.

    And we need significantly more DAs themselves.

    But our courts are worthless if we do not have the prison facilities to house convicted felons who commit violent crimes, sheriff's deputies to enforce civil rulings, and clerks to keep on top of things like child support payments.

    The whole system is broken, perhaps beyond repair.

    More...

  • patrick85ed Jun 24, 2008

    Why don't you "Career Band" all of them? Apparently this program is the best thing since sliced bread or so they have told us.