ST. LOUIS – The debate over defunding police may be giving way to ‘funding prosecutors’ in the St. Louis area and across the United States.
The shortage of prosecutors has gotten so bad that the district attorney in Dodge County, Wisconsin, northwest of Milwaukee, recently resigned because he was soon to be the only attorney left in the office.
“Hiring and retention is the number one issue for these offices,” said Susan Ryan of St. Louis.
Ryan co-founded the Vera Causa Group, a legal consulting firm, with Jennifer Joyce, a former St. Louis Circuit Attorney. Their clients include more than 100 prosecutor’s offices across the country.
“We have (an) office in Illinois where they have had not one application in three months for two open prosecutor jobs, not one,” Ryan said.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said his attorney positions were essentially fully staffed, though he’d like to be authorized to hire more attorneys just to keep up with the criminal caseload.
“As far as the staffing we’re budgeted for, we are right on track with respect to that,” Bell said. “But if you’re going to say, ‘Can we use 10-15 more attorneys?’ We absolutely can.”
Missouri lawmakers may soon appoint a team of prosecutors to tackle a backlog of an estimated 3,500 to 4,200 criminal cases awaiting action from current St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office. The total number of attorneys in the office was reportedly down more than 30% at times from more than 60 working there when she first won election in 2016. Despite repeated requests, Gardner’s Office will not provide FOX 2 with the number of attorney positions authorized and the number of those positions that are currently filled.
Gardner’s Office released the following statement:
“The Circuit Attorney Office’s trial attorney staffing is currently approximately at 90%. The office continues to be a viable employer for both experienced and new attorneys, and we receive applications on a daily basis. Our office’s most significant barrier to hiring is low pay. Our office will continue to use innovative hiring practices to attract the best attorneys possible to deliver justice on behalf of the people of the City of St. Louis.”
The starting salary for attorneys in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office is $50,000. It’s more than $61,000 in St. Louis and St. Charles counties. St. Charles County is currently fully staffed with 25 attorneys, a spokesperson said.
Though money matters, work culture does, too, according to Ryan.
“There is no more meaningful work on the face of the earth than fighting for justice,” she said. “Making sure the right people are held accountable, we’re not putting the wrong people behind bars, and we’re giving the victims of crime the justice they deserve.”
Back in Wisconsin, the governor has had to appoint an attorney from another county to cover Dodge County, which went from six prosecutors to none.