Prosecutors fighting crime … and low wages
Mike Goodbee, district attorney for Fifth Judicial District, says he doesn’t have the funds to pay his prosecutors as much as they can make on the Front Range – or even Eagle County.
“I’m not saying injustices are going to get done, but it increases the chances that we don’t have as much success in the courtroom for victims of crime,” Goodbee says.
Chief Deputy District Attorney John Clune left the office this summer to go into private practice in Clear Creek County. Deputy District Attorney Dave Lugert resigned earlier in the year.
Those two prosecutors handled almost all of the more serious criminal cases in Eagle County.
“For some reason the county commissioners seem to ignore the need to have experienced prosecutors representing the community,” Clune said in July, shortly before his departure.
“At some point,” Clune added, “this county should take a serious look at why the county attorneys, who represent the commissioners, make so much more than the district attorneys.”
The Fifth Judicial District is comprised of Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake Counties. Goodbee’s office receives funding from the county commissions of the four counties.
“I can’t say commissioners have turned a deaf ear but this is an issue I need to continue to accentuate,” Goodbee says.
Before last year’s budgeting process, Goodbee surveyed salaries of prosecutors in Front Range counties, such as Denver, Jefferson and Arapahoe, and compared them to those in his office. He found salaries on the Front Range were 25 to 30 percent higher, he says.
“This year, however, I went about it in a different tack because some of last year’s number differences can be dismissed as comparing apples to oranges – lawyers in the mountains compared to lawyers in city,” Goodbee says.
For this year’s county budget, Goodbee looked at how much attorneys for the four counties are paid, he says.
“What I found is the relative pay is 25 to 30 percent more for a county attorney within this district than for prosecutors,” Goodbee says. “I’m hoping an argument along this line is maybe more persuasive, though I’m not unaware of the fact that these are more challenging economic times for the county.”
Goodbee says he doesn’t think county attorneys should get pay cuts, however.
“Prosecutors in Denver and county attorneys in our district are not overpaid,” Goodbee says. “They make an appropriate wage. They’re getting paid what they should be getting paid.”
The salary for an entry level prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, by comparison, is $37,500.
“A lot of young lawyers coming out of law school have student loan debts from college and law school. I’ve seen figures that come close to $100,000 in debt,” Goodbee says. “Young lawyers don’t choose careers in prosecution because they want to get rich, but they certainly don’t want to be poor. They need to maintain some quality of life.”
Goodbee says in 12 years as many as 15 lawyers have worked in the District Attorney’s Office. In the same time, only four or five lawyers have worked for the Public Defender’s Office.
“Their skill level is increasing, and when we lose talent we start over again,” Goodbee says.
The biggest loss when an attorney leaves the district is in experience, Goodbee says.
“I’ve sought and received pretty decent increases, but the gap continues to widen,” Goodbee says. “Until the disparity is addressed, we’ll continue to lose talent, and that’s unfortunate for the citizens.”
Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.