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Slowing The Brain Drain Of Public Lawyers

Florida Senate

At Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt’s office, some attorneys juggle 160 cases at any given time. Higher pay and shorter hours lure them to private firms. It’s tempting to leave, Holt says, because most attorneys begin their public service heavily in debt.

 “The majority of the attorneys that work in the public defender’s office and the state attorney’s office have an excess of 100 thousand dollars in student loans.”

Senator Jeremy Ring, a Democrat from Margate, moved a step closer Tuesday to what he thinks is a solution. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed his proposal that would set aside about 6 million dollars in general revenue to help prosecutors and public defenders pay off law school student loans.

Monica Hofheinz, a prosecutor from South Florida, told lawmakers the bill could have broader implications for the state than saving attorneys money.

“Experience is essential to the effective running of the criminal justice system.”

Attorneys who stay at least 3 years get $3,000 a year. Six-year veterans get $5,000 a year. The money stops flowing after 12 years. Anyone who defaulted on a loan, or has a non-governmental loan, doesn’t qualify. No attorney can get more than 44 thousand dollars.

Senate staff estimates that 1,314 public defenders and prosecutors could benefit, as well as another 97 lawyers who work for the state attorney general.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.