February 26, 2013
Commonwealth's attorneys and public defenders play a key role in ensuring a fair trial, but when it comes to compensation, the pay isn't as equal.
"We are very similar in a lot of respects," said Jim Hingeley, who serves as the public defender for Charlottesville and Albemarle County. "I think the most important thing we do, both prosecutors and public defenders, is ensure a fair trial."
While both commonwealth's attorneys and public defenders are both paid by the state, the prosecutors receive much more compensation that public defenders.
For example, the average salary for a commonwealth's attorney in Charlottesville and Albemarle County is $150,726. The salary for the public defender is $123,541, a difference of $27,185.
An assistant commonwealth's attorney in the two localities averages a salary of $69,093. The equivalent position in the public defender's office receives $$57,996, a difference of $11,097.
"It turns out that we're not being considered as equal partners despite the important contributions that each of us make to the criminal justice system," Hingeley said.
Hingeley spoke at Monday night's public hearing for Albemarle County's budget, urging supervisors to provide a salary supplement for him and his staff.
"You'll go a long way to achieve the county's strategic goal on workforce," Hingeley told the supervisors.
Others supported his claim.
"In order for us to have a just and fair system, we really need to provide the resources necessary on both sides," Albemarle County resident Dick Reppucci said.
Supervisor Rodney Thomas welcomed the idea of a salary supplement.
"I'm glad it came forth," he said.
The public defender, who represents people in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County, is requesting localities fund supplements based on their case loads.
In fiscal year 2012, the public defender's office worked 47.36 percent of its cases in Charlottesville and 52.64 percent of its cases in Albemarle County. Based on those numbers, the public defender is requesting $69,022 from Charlottesville and $76,716 from Albemarle County to make up the salary discrepancy.
Those funds are to add to the salaries of nine full-time and one part-time position in the public defender's office.
"I don't know how far it's going to go with the money we have available," Thomas said. "I think they put a lot of work into it and I think they deserve a little more benefit from it."
While Hingeley said his staff has other motivating factors beyond salary to do the best job possible, it's just a matter of being fair.
"Everyone in the community wants to be sure that everybody accused of crimes gets a fair of trial," Hingeley said.
Charlottesville's proposed budget has not yet been released. If the funding for the public defender's office is not supplied in there, Hingeley said he plans to speak at city council meetings, as well.