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When the Massachusetts legislature recently increased the minimum starting annual salary for state prosecutors to $35,000, it was good news for district attorneys, who have been lobbying for years to get their assistants more money. Well, sort of. Although the Legislature gave the fiscal nod, it didn’t give the prosecutors any more money. With no additional funding attached to that July 19 fiscal year 2001 mandate, district attorneys are now scrambling to find ways within their existing budget to bring new lawyers in at $35,000 — and to raise the salary of assistants who have been there for years to make compensation equitable in their offices. “To say to us to start salaries at $35,000 without the financing … is totally unfair,” says Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, who oversees 125 assistant DAs. “There is a big price tag attached to this.” Salaries for prosecutors in her office start at $30,000 a year. About 100 of the 125 assistants would have to be given a $5,000 raise to meet the mandate, she says. That would significantly erode the majority of the $600,000 increase the Legislature appropriated for her FY 2001 budget, she says, leaving her little money to pay for increased office lease costs, upgraded technology and cost-of-living raises for the rest of her staff. Coakley is not alone in her sentiments. District attorneys across the state may file supplemental budget requests with the Legislature to comply with the mandate or be forced to make adjustments within their budgets, they say. State Representative David P. Linsky, D-Natick, said that a 7 percent increase for all district attorneys’ budgets appropriated by the Legislature for fiscal year 2001 would be more than enough money to cover the cost of bringing assistant district attorneys up to the $35,000 level. “Just a blank statement that money was not included [with this legislation] is intellectually dishonest,” Linsky says. However, if district attorneys need more money to compensate prosecutors who have worked for a few years and would be earning the same as a new ADA, the Legislature “would be happy to look at it,” says Linsky, a former prosecutor who was behind the push for ADAs getting more money. RECOGNIZING OTHERS Elizabeth A. Keeley, first assistant in Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II’s office, says that while prosecutors appreciate lawmakers’ recognition that ADAs should be earning more money, the salary increase doesn’t recognize the other professionals in the office, such as victim witness advocates and investigators. “We try and maintain parity among our professionals,” Keeley says. “It’s not fair just to recognize attorneys’ salaries.” Keeley says her office is still analyzing how to adjust its budget. Discretionary expenses, such as paying for experts in DNA analysis and child abuse, may be sacrificed, she says. The cost of meeting the Legislature’s directive is anywhere from $50,000 for the smaller DAs’ offices such as Berkshire County, up to several hundred thousand dollars for the larger offices in Middlesex and Suffolk counties, says Geline W. Williams, executive director of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. District attorneys are concerned about the effect of the legislation on midlevel assistant district attorneys who have worked for a few years and earn $36,000 to $38,000 and will work alongside a brand-new colleague earning virtually the same salary, Williams says. “This could force the exodus of midlevel assistants just at the point when they’re trained and highly valuable to the office,” she said. “This is the so-called domino effect of the legislation.” Turnover has also been a byproduct of the low-paying job in district attorneys’ offices across the state, particularly at the district court level, prosecutors say. In the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, which covers Hampshire and Franklin counties, of the 27 assistant district attorneys on staff, only 12 have been working there since 1996, says David A. Angier, first assistant district attorney in Elizabeth D. Scheibel’s Northwestern District Attorney’s office. PIZZA ON THE SIDE “They cannot make a living,” says Angier, who noted that one prosecutor in his office used his vacation days to work a side job making pizzas. The average starting salaries for assistant district attorneys in Massachusetts range from about $28,000 to $32,500 a year, Williams notes. In lobbying for more money, prosecutors say that assistant district attorneys are often the lowest-paid employees in the courtroom, earning less than the starting salaries for assistant clerk-magistrates ($68,280), probation officers ($42,166) and court officers ($38,185). In some cases, assistant district attorneys work as much as 60 to 70 hours a week, they say. The public sector can’t compete with the private sector, and that is hurting district attorneys’ abilities to recruit and retain assistants, prosecutors say. Attorney Thomas J. O’Connor Jr. knew exactly what he was getting into financially when he left his $90,000-plus annual salary at Boston’s Hale and Dorr L.L.P. to work as a state prosecutor for $33,000. Handling arraignments, trials and pretrial conferences in courtrooms in Hampshire and Franklin counties five days a week, O’Connor says, he works every bit as hard as he did at Hale and Dorr, working nights and bringing cases home on the weekends. Drawn by the desire to work in public service, O’Connor, the son of a former mayor of Springfield, says that prosecutors deserve more money because they make important decisions every day about the lives of victims and defendants. “I wanted to work in public service and with this job I can contribute to the community in a palpable way day in and day out,” O’Connor says.

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