MIAMI – Right now, both the Miami-Dade State Attorney and Miami-Dade Public Defender’s offices say they are losing attorneys at an alarming rate, and that salaries set by the state are so low, they’re having trouble recruiting new ones to fill empty slots.
Normally, Miami-Dade’s Public Defender Carlos Martinez and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, are on opposite sides of the criminal justice system.
“The situation has pretty much gotten out of control in the past two years,” said Martinez.
Added Fernandez Rundle: “It’s quite remarkably frightening.”
But right now, they are teaming up, begging the state for higher starting salaries for their lawyers, as both say they’re losing more staff than they can handle.
“I’ve lost over 80 just in the last year,” said Fernandez Rundle. “That’s the size of any big law firm.”
Said Martinez: “We absolutely need help, and we need help now.”
The problem, they say, is that while caseloads continue to grow, starting salaries for their attorneys are well below national average despite being in one of the most expensive areas to live in the country.
That means their more experienced attorneys are bolting in droves for higher paying gigs, leaving newer, younger lawyers to pick up the slack.
“You have very inexperienced lawyers in the felony division handling cases where the individual could go to state prison where these young lawyers have less than a year with our office,” said Martinez. “Same thing with the state attorney.”
So now they’re turning to the state legislature, asking for enough money to give every person a $10,000 dollar raise to try and help keep the people they have, and bring in more.
“Our lawyers, god love them, they work so hard they chose this job to serve their community,” said Fernandez Rundle. “But we shouldn’t expect them to take a vow of poverty. All they want is a reasonable, living wage, to be able to survive in Miami.”
Both have dozens of attorney job openings they are having a lot of trouble filling, and hundreds more openings for support staff.
The state attorney is actually asking the state for more than just the $10,000 across the board, she wants them to set a $75,000 starting salary. That way, she says, she’s able to offer a competitive living wage, to bring in the best candidates.