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St. Lawrence County indigent defenders challenge Rain proposals for raises for her staff

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CANTON — A debate over whether St. Lawrence County assistant district attorneys should receive raises has resulted in dueling press releases issued by District Attorney Mary E. Rain and Steven G. Ballan, president of the county Indigent Defenders.

The issue was raised Monday at the county Board of Legislators meeting when Ms. Rain, championed by several Democratic legislators, argued that her assistant district attorneys should have their salaries increased so she could retain an experienced staff. Doing so would result in a more efficient office and save the county money in the long run, she said.

The proposed pay raises, which would be effective March 29, represented percentage increases that ranged from 13 percent to 23 percent. Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard’s salary would go from $80,816 to $98,575, making him paid more than any department head. The raises would total about $48,000.

Despite the increase, the raises would be $28,000 less than the 2014 budget for the DA’s office allowed because they are not for the entire year.

Mr. Ballan, in a press release Friday evening, wrote that information provided by Ms. Rain was misleading and incorrect.

“Unfortunately, paying prosecutors more will not increase the performance of the individual attorneys nor increase the conviction rate, any more than paying defense attorneys more will increase the percentage of not guilty verdicts,” he wrote. “Compensation should be based upon experience, hours and supervisors’ evaluations.”

After Monday’s contentious meeting attended by Mr. Ballan, which resulted in legislators delaying a decision, Ms. Rain issued a press release of her own that, in part, compared assistant district attorneys with other county attorneys to bolster her argument.

“To differentiate, prosecutors are tasked with a great responsibility of not only ensuring that justice is served, but that it is done so in a fair, efficient and cost-effective manner,” requiring a 24/7 commitment, her release stated. “ADAs are always on call, requiring them to provide bail recommendations to local court judges at arraignment, respond to vehicle crash sites to assist with fatal accident collisions, and visit and assist at crime scenes, such as meth labs.”

However, Mr. Ballan cited a letter Ms. Rain sent to city, town and village justices to let them know that assistant district attorneys would not be coming to their courts in January — with the exception of Ogdensburg, Massena and Gouverneur.

“During January 2014, the Public Defender and Conflict Defender sent criminal defense attorneys to all 36 courts without interruption,” Mr. Ballan wrote. “To put the record straight, in 2013, the six lawyers in the Public Defender’s Office alone worked in excess of 2,000 hours for which they received no compensation at all.”

At the meeting, Ms. Rain said that county public defenders make more money than ADAs. But Mr. Ballan said that is not true.

“All attorneys working for the county were on the same salary schedule in 2013, with a few deviations for special circumstances,” he wrote. “After the formation of St. Lawrence County Indigent Defenders union, the employees of the Public Defender’s Office and the Conflict Defender’s Office have received no raises. In January 2014, the ADAs received raises and on a 2014 pay scale, while defense attorneys are still on a 2013 pay scale.”

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