Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

State bar journal highlights La Follette School report on prosecutor pay

A new law should help slow the turnover of Wisconsin's prosecutors highlighted in a 2011 La Follette School report, as well as improve the delivery of justice in Wisconsin.

As noted in a September column in the State Bar of Wisconsin's magazine, Wisconsin's governor signed into law a merit-based pay progression plan for assistant district attorneys, assistant attorneys general and assistant state public defenders.

Led by professor emeritus Dennis DresangDennis Dresang, the La Follette School study of prosecutor staffing across the state found that the compensation system prompted assistant district attorneys to leave their jobs within the first five years of service. Of 330 ADAs, 75 percent left their positions between 2001 and 2007.

"This study helped us emphasize to the public and policymakers that prosecution experience matters," says Milwaukee County district attorney John Chisholm. "To keep experienced, professional prosecutors you have to give them hope they can stay in the profession and support and care for their families at the same time."

The Wisconsin Lawyer column by John S. Skilton, a partner in the Madison office of Perkins Coie and former State Bar president, noted the importance of the La Follette study, Public Safety and Assistant District Attorney Staffing in Wisconsin, which Dresang co-authored with now-alumni Jerrett Jones, Alex Marach and Hilary J. Waukau.

"Based on this study and prompted by the tireless advocacy of public sector lawyers, the legislature and the executive branch began to take notice," Skilton wrote. "The foundational question was: 'What does it mean if the public, crime victims, and indigent defendants are unable to expect that an experienced advocate will represent their interests, particularly as public safety and liberty are at stake?'"

"Without retention of experienced, sophisticated public advocates – for the state and for the defense – Wisconsin's criminal justice system cannot purport to provide just results," Skilton added.

Final Thought: Pay Progression for Public Sector Attorneys: Progress in the Right Direction, September 2013, Wisconsin Lawyer