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Salaries at county attorney’s office lag behind other counties, result in turnover

October 11, 2018

KINGMAN — Mohave County lags behind other counties in attracting and keeping qualified attorneys.

Since 2007, the county attorney’s office lost 16 attorneys within their first three years of service. Unlike the public and legal defender’s office, prosecutors do not have the option to contract cases out to private attorneys.

Most of the current attorneys in the county attorney’s office have less than two years of experience, with only a few having more than five years. The office recently went two months without any qualified attorneys applying for a position, which had never happened before, Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said.

Most attorneys come straight from law school, taking up to two years of training. Many attorneys leave the county after two years, leading to a revolving door of attorneys heading to larger counties or cities.

In Coconino County, the salary range for an Attorney 1 is $65,024 to $95,585 a year. In Yavapai County, the range is $63,301 to $86,175. The salary range for an Attorney 1 in Mohave County is $54,288 to $84,260.

With an increasing caseload, there is less time for prosecutors to prosecute a case, which can negatively affect the outcome of a case, Smith said.

There were 2,646 felony cases filed in the 2015-2016 fiscal year with 82.5 percent of those cases resolved within 180 days. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, there were 2,980 felony cases with 44 percent resolved within 180 days.

Mohave County prosecutors handle from 85 to 100 felony cases, which doesn’t account for probation violations and original indictments. Prosecutors in Coconino County handle from 53 to 89 cases.

The county supervisors on Monday will discuss classifying attorneys from the county attorney’s office, the public and legal defender’s office and the legal advocate office as “hot jobs.”

The board also will discuss increasing the salaries for all attorneys by 10 percent. The additional cost to the county’s general fund would be $389,500, Smith said.

Another proposal would eliminate the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which provides financial aid to law school graduates who work in the public sector. That savings amounts to about $61,000. Eliminating a mitigation specialist with the public defender’s office would save $57,896.

At their September meeting, the supervisors approved an additional $193,535 in attorney costs due to hiring private attorneys because of vacancies in the county offices. A number of attorneys have left the county to take private contracts averaging about $69,775 a year.

Staff vacancies in the prosecutor and defense attorney offices have led to delays in criminal cases, costing taxpayers in additional jail costs, Smith said.

It costs about $67 a day to house one inmate at the county jail. If one case was handled by a fully staffed office, the cost savings to the county would be about $2,014 if that one case was resolved 30 days sooner. Inmates sentenced to prison sooner shifts the inmate cost to the state.

The supervisors will meet at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the county administration building at 700 W. Beale St. in Kingman.

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