MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – District Attorneys across the state say they are in dire straits because of the lack of attorneys. Statewide, about 10% of prosecutorial vacancies remain open, presenting a daunting challenge for the legal system.
Public prosecutors are losing out on many private sector jobs, and they are struggling to attract new clients.
Last week the Dodge County DA resigned because there are no more DAs there. Almost all districts are hurting.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Gravely said, “There’s no way we can afford it.”
The District Attorney calls the situation dangerous, serious, a disaster. And there’s one thing to blame: the state-mandated starting wage is $26.70 an hour.
Gravely said, “No lawyer with experience would accept a job at that salary.”
Eric Toney is the Fond du Lac District Attorney who serves as the President of the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association and the District. He said, “We can’t hire people in these positions because of the low starting salaries.”
Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern said, “That’s exactly why people leave our office.”
Milwaukee County currently has seven attorney vacancies, accounting for 17% of its workforce. Kenosha County has two vacancies out of 18. No one has applied.
But the cases continue to mount, and so do the remaining lawyers trying to keep their heads above water.
Gravely said, “We can’t prepare for next week’s hearings and trials. This means that the victims are not prepared the same way they should be, the video will not be reviewed.”
When public prosecutors leave for more expensive jobs, the average impact of those who remain decreases.
Lovern said, “Nobody can walk into this office and just be ready to charge an armed robber or a gunman.
From 2012 to 2020, the number of prosecutors represented was 59% statewide. Therefore, 65% of lawyers have less than 10 years of experience.
So, the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association is urging lawmakers to raise the starting wage to $35 an hour to attract more attorneys.
Toney said the state legislature has been a good partner in the past. “I believe they understand the problem, it seems like a question that will not go away if they do something.”
But until then, every day without proper lawyers puts the legal system at risk.
Toney said, “Our work has been hit hard lately and we are asking for what we believe is necessary to ensure that we can hire and retain the best attorneys here in Wisconsin.”
We reached out to Governor Tony Evers’ office to review his response to the request for a pay raise, but have not heard back. The budget is expected to be presented in the month of February.