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Panel creates prosecutor board, approves raises for judges (UPDATE)

A budget-writing committee has given its endorsement to a proposal calling for raises for state judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

Gov. Scott Walker had proposed creating a new system for compensating judges and giving 2 percent raises to judges in 2018 and 2019, which would cost about $334,000 and leave future raises up to the state Supreme Court.

He also proposed $66,400 for assistant and deputy public-defender raises in 2018 and 2019, as well as around $4 million over the biennium for deputy and assistant district attorneys.

The Joint Committee on Finance voted 12-4, on party lines, to increase judges’ salaries by 4 percent over two years but deleted Walker’s proposal to change the process by which those salaries would be set. Instead, the committee is directing a division of the DOA to consult Chief Justice Pat Roggensack on future wage adjustments for judges.

Lawmakers had been scheduled to vote on the raises on May 1 but top officials on joint finance delayed that vote, saying more time was needed to scrutinize Walker’s proposal and Roggensack’s request for a larger raise.

Roggensack, since being elected chief justice in 2015, has made increasing judicial pay one of her priorities and has proposed raises of more than $20,000 a year for herself and other judges.

The committee on Wednesday also approved, on a 12-4 vote along party lines, money for pay progression for certain public defenders and prosecutors. They approved both the $1.97-per-hour-on-average raises that Walker had sought for assistant district attorneys and deputy district attorneys and what could amount to 1.83 percent raises for eligible assistant state public defenders.

The action the committee took would send $4.7 million to prosecutors and $480,700 to state public defenders. That basically amounts to lawmakers giving public defenders 10 cents for every dollar given to prosecutors and furthers the disparity in compensation between the two groups of government attorneys, noted Randy Kraft, communications director for the State Public Defender’s Office.

“We are concerned that a number of our great public defenders will leave for their local prosecution for greater compensation,” he said. “We’re concerned that this agency will become a training ground.”

Kraft also noted that his agency is concerned that operating costs will increase as attorneys leave the agency, cases will be delayed because of a shortage of attorneys in rural areas and that clients will question the fairness of the system when they see their attorneys switch sides.

The committee on Thursday unanimously approved the creation of an 11-member prosecutor board that would help the Legislature review proposed laws and prepare the budget request for district attorneys.

State Rep. Mark Born, R- Beaver Dam, brought forth the motion, which he said had been something he and other lawmakers had been working on with state prosecutors. Born noted that the board would provide professional advice to the Legislature on proposed laws and on the budget, similar to what other agencies have done.


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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