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State Attorneys, Public Defenders: 'We're Losing Good Lawyers Due To Low Pay'

The Offices of the State Attorney and Public Defenders are asking Florida lawmakers to give them funding to increase the salaries of the state’s lawyers. Both offices say they’re experiencing high turnover rates, because of the low pay their attorneys receive.

William Eddins, the State Attorney for the First Judicial Court, says across the state, his office is having trouble keeping attorneys in their jobs.  And he adds those who stay, are generally less experienced.

“From my standpoint, what you want is a certain number to be there 30 years," said Eddins. "In our circuit, we’d like to keep it a third for thirty years. A third for up to five, and then a third that goes ahead and tries the cases against us. Unfortunately, we’re below that now.”

Eddins says if they had the necessary funds to increase salaries or provide better pay bumps, more lawyers might stay with the State Attorney’s Offices.

“We’re spending a tremendous amount of time training lawyers to be good lawyers to go out in private practice to go out and beat our brains out," remarked Eddins. "And, we do a good job of that. But, I’d like to reach to the point, where we’re training lawyers to stay with us. As Betty Jacobs says, ‘they’re either leaving or looking.’”

And, Julianne Holt says her office has that same problem. She’s a Public Defender with the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.

“It is problematic from the standpoint of the amount of money and the amount of time you’re putting into the training of the lawyers and then when they leave you," said Holt.

"Most of our offices in the Public Defenders Association do in fact do exit interviews and the two primary reasons that people leave, number one, is the lower salaries people believe exist. The other, however, has been the fact that we haven’t been able to increase salaries through either cost of living or any type of merit increases.”

Holt says she’s found that lawyers at the public defender’s office are leaving for similar jobs for nearly double the pay.

Both offices made their funding requests at the first meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Thursday.

Many Senators on the panel raised several questions, and committee Chairman, Republican Senator Rob Bradley, says he’s not so sure the solution state attorneys and public defenders are asking for is the right way to go.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.