Monday, August 8, 2011

Kane state’s attorney wants 32% more pay for starting lawyers

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon wants more pay for starting assistant state's attorneys, to match that offered in surrounding counties.

Doing so would prevent young attorneys from getting experience and training at Kane's expense, then jumping to those other counties for better pay (and often, lighter caseloads), he said at his monthly news conference Tuesday. He made the same argument when presenting his 2012 budget to the county board committee of the whole July 26.

Kane has 58 assistant state's attorneys. The starting pay is $40,000 per year. McMahon proposes raising that to $53,000.

His salary study shows that assistant state's attorneys in McHenry, DuPage, Lake and Will counties make from $51,626 (McHenry) to $54,150 (DuPage). A beginning federal attorney with no experience starts at $50,287, and a beginning attorney with the state attorney general makes $53,000.

Those who take jobs elsewhere are often handling less-serious cases for more money, he said.

The assistant state's attorneys typically start out prosecuting cases in the traffic division, then move on to misdemeanors, juvenile delinquencies and then felonies. McMahon said that the more experienced an attorney is, the better they are at evaluating and preparing cases and conducting plea negotiations. Having stronger cases gives defendants more incentive to enter pleas, he said, and should cut down on jail stays, saving money that way, he said.

"I want the best and the brightest to work here in Kane County," McMahon said.

Giving the raises would factor in to a 16.1 percent increase in the budget's line item for salaries and wages. But that line item also covers salaries for other office personnel.

"We're aware these are very difficult economic times," McMahon said.

At last week's budget presentation, county board member Jim Mitchell suggested phasing raises in over three years. McMahon said he is willing to do that, although he suspects that won't initially slow down the loss of attorneys. And the current county board cannot bind a future county board to such a plan, he said.

At that same meeting, Public Defender Kelli Childress also asked for pay raises for her starting attorneys, who make a little more than $38,000 a year. She, too, said Kane paid the lowest wage around.

By Susan Sarkauskas


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