May 22, 2013 — The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee passed Governor Walker’s recommendation to fix a structural deficit in the State Public Defender’s (SPD) private bar appropriation, but it decided to modify his pay progression proposal for government attorneys. The pay progression measure will affect lawyers who work as public defenders, assistant district attorneys and assistant attorneys general.
The deficit fix will allow the SPD to pay members of the private bar for work they have completed. Prior to the fix, private attorneys who represented those in need at the request of the SPD were forced to wait for several months for reimbursement.
Andrea Gage is public relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org agage wisbar wisbar agage org, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.
Pay progression helps the government retain talented and experienced employees by rewarding attorneys with increasing years of service. Last session, Walker signed 2011 Wisconsin Act 238, a bipartisan proposal to establish a new pay progression system to increase the pay of ADAs. While that legislation established the pay progression program, the Legislature delayed implementation of the program until the start of the next biennial budget.
In Tuesday's action, the committee moved to modify the governor's proposal so that recently hired public defenders, ADAs and assistant attorneys general (AAGs), under step 3 of the state's pay scale would qualify for pay progression. With this change, individual attorneys could see their annual compensation move from $49,429 annually (the minimum starting salary for an attorney) to $57,668 annually. The Joint Finance Committee voted on a proposal that would have created a pay progression system for all public defenders, AAGs and ADAs. That motion failed in a 5 to 11 vote.
A 2011 University of Wisconsin study showed that turnover among ADAs averaged more than 18 percent since 2005, far greater than the 5 to 7 percent turnover among most public employees. Between 2001 and 2007, more than 75 percent of the ADAs left their jobs. The most common reason for leaving was salary.
The State Bar Board of Governors reaffirmed its support for the pay progression proposal at its quarterly meeting in Sheboygan in February. The governors unanimously passed modified policy positions supporting compensation and benefit packages for all state attorneys.