State attorneys, public defenders voice recruitment and retention concerns

State attorneys and public defenders are pleading with lawmakers ahead of the upcoming Session to provide courts more resources to tackle the backlog of cases created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other needs, the offices are desperately seeking more money to bolster salaries as a means to recruit and retain staff. The situation, they explained, is dire.

“We’re in a crisis,” said Stacy Scott, public defender for Florida’s 8th judicial circuit. “I’ve been the elected public defender for almost 11 years now and I have never seen this kind of crisis before in terms of new hires and turnover.”

Speaking Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, Scott and State Attorney Jack Campbell pleaded their case to lawmakers.

With an average turnover rate of 26% statewide, Scott requested a $5,000 pay increase per lawyer, among other things. Some counties, she said, are facing turnover rates higher than 50%. That $5,000 pay increase would cost the state $7.8 million in general revenue.

“That’s just the bare minimum of what we think we need in order to be competitive in this economy,” Scott said, adding that many public defenders are poached by private firms offering more pay and better

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