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Editor’s note: This story is the first of two parts. Tuesday, we compare pay among Bay Area county counsel. Nobody becomes a public defender for the money. But for public defenders in the Bay Area, when it comes to pay, location matters. A lot. A straight-out-of-law-school, bottom-of-the-totem-pole deputy public defender in Santa Clara County makes $74,810, 58 percent more than a wet-behind-the-ears public defender in Solano, who brings in $47,277. The range narrows to 30 percent among the four largest Bay Area counties — San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa. Santa Clara is at the top, and Contra Costa stands at the low end with entry-level pay beginning at $57,432. A Recordersurvey of Bay Area public defender salaries shows that among eight counties in the region, Santa Clara’s PD pay far outstrips that of its neighbors. The smaller, more rural counties of Solano and Napa are neck-and-neck for last place. Two counties were left out of the survey because they do not have traditional public defender offices. San Mateo uses a private defender system managed by the San Mateo Bar Association, and Santa Cruz uses a private firm. Santa Clara muscled its way to the top of the chart in every salary category entry and senior level, top deputy and public defender. Not only do lower-level PDs make more money, but Assistant Chief Public Defender David Mann, who makes $193,052, is at the top of the scale for top deputies. And Public Defender Jose Villarreal is the leader among PDs with $206,014. During the boom years, Santa Clara’s fat paychecks lured more than one public defender to settle in the greener pastures of Silicon Valley. The office’s habit of poaching top lawyers from other offices earned it a reputation as a cherry picker. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” Villarreal said. “We do a lot of hard work in recruitment. I would like to think it’s in part due to management practice, not just salary.” The county also tops the chart for district attorney pay, according to a 2002 Recordersalary survey. Santa Clara rules require salaries to remain “commensurate with those prevailing throughout the county for comparable work.” Comparable with whom was the subject of several trials in the 1980s and 1990s. The Santa Clara County Superior Court eventually ruled that comparable included private attorneys and not just other public employees. One of the first fruits of the ruling was the 15.5 percent raise given to public defenders in 2002, their first since 1995. But Wednesday, the Government Attorneys Association, which represents 300 public defenders and district attorneys, voted to defer another pay increase to defuse contract negotiations that have become volatile in the wake of a county budget crisis. James Shore, the president of the Government Attorneys Association in Santa Clara — which won the raises after two court battles — says union lawyers are sensitive to the budget crisis. “Our members are willing to look for creative alternatives that let them continue to feed their families and pay back their loans.” Even with the raise deferral, Villarreal and other county leaders say they aren’t sure they can avoid layoffs. DISPARITY IN CONTRA COSTA At the opposite end of the spectrum is Contra Costa. The exception to the county’s last-place standing is Public Defender David Coleman, whose $160,152 salary tops San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s $149,235. In Contra Costa, the entry-level position not only pays the least, but it is also a one-year temporary post. Coleman says a permanent public defender position typically begins after one year in the temporary job, and pays between $58,000 and $71,405. Coleman declined to comment on the pay disparity between his public defenders and others in the Bay Area. However, he said, compared to private-sector attorneys, all public-sector attorneys are underpaid. “Given the quality of the work and how much they give of themselves, I don’t think they are paid enough in every county.” The American Bar Association agrees. According to an ABA study titled, “Lifting the Burden: Law Student Debt as a Barrier to Public Service” published in February, most new lawyers have more than $80,000 in education debts. The report says the debts are so staggering, and public-sector salaries so low, that 66 percent of student respondents did not even consider a public interest or government job. Among the eight counties surveyed, the salary range for senior public defenders — those with the most experience defending the knottiest cases but without managerial responsibilities — is a bit narrower than among entry-level PDs. Santa Clara pays its senior deputy public defenders at least $127,439, which is 47 percent more than the minimum Sonoma County pays its senior PDs, $88,991. But Contra Costa’s Coleman says salary differences between counties may not be important to public defenders. What matters, Coleman says, is how much the lawyer across the table makes. “It would be of greater concern if they were being paid less than their adversary,” he said. “If the DA gets one dollar more, then we want that dollar.” PDS V. DAS According to salary data collected by The Recorder, district attorneys and public defendersare paid nearly identical salaries in half the eight Bay Area counties. While disparity is seen in the small counties of Marin, Napa and Sonoma, among the large four counties, only Contra Costa’s entry-level public defenders are paid significantly less than their cross-court rivals. Beginning DAs have a three-year contract period that fixes their salary at $64,812. Coleman said that while temporary public defenders make $57,432, they can earn $58,000 to $71,405 at the next level, deputy PD II. Of the small counties, the only one with more than a 4 percent difference between newbie PDs and DAs is Sonoma, where a starting DA pulls in $64,772, about 10 percent more than a starting public defender’s $58,986. The largest pay disparity between the top PD and DA is in Solano County. District Attorney David Paulson makes $167,908, 31 percent more than Public Defender Marvin Brookner, who makes $128,659. Comparing public defender and district attorney pay around the Bay revealed at least one surprise. In San Francisco, primarily due to successful union negotiations, both the PD and DA make less than their senior assistants. Deputy Chief DA Murlene Randle makes $170,500 — $13,460 more than her boss, DA Terence Hallinan’s $157,040. “I don’t begrudge them their salaries,” Hallinan said. “They’d make more in private practice.” In the S.F. public defender’s office, Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese earns $167,986, almost $19,000 more than her boss, Jeff Adachi. “She works hard and is worth every penny,” Adachi said. Adachi knows about the demands of the No. 2 job. It used to be his. “I won an election and took a pay cut,” he said. “But would I change positions? Not a chance.”

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