(Beaver Dam) Wisconsin’s next biennial budget will most likely include support for state prosecutors and public defenders. It is an issue that garnered state-wide attention when former Dodge County district attorney Kurt Klomberg announced his resignation. He noted that current staffing challenges are a result of the state’s failure to keep up with the appropriate compensation levels to attract new prosecution talent.
Governor Tony Evers has indicated that he will provide funding in his budget proposal. Representative Mark Born says the state has been investing significantly in assistant district attorneys and public defenders in the last several budgets.
“In something that they call pay-progression which is increases in wages for current staff in their office…to try to retain that staff,” says Born.
“One of the things we were hearing several years ago already was ‘we get people coming out of law school…they spend a few years here…get some great experience and then they go to a private firm and make a lot more money once they’ve got that experience…so you got to help us keep our staff that we are training and building up so that we’re better.’ And, so, we’ve been doing that and they have been having some success with that.”
Born says the current issue comes down to filling open positions following retirements.
“And that’s really what happened in Dodge County…three retirements within a few months of each other and three retirements in less than a years’ time…three of the six attorneys in that office,” says Born.
“And now, a combination of low starting pay cause it really hasn’t been talked about, to increase that. And the labor market, across all sectors this area isn’t any different than manufacturing or anywhere else, there’s just not enough new folks coming in to be attorneys and so they’re competing with the private bar.”
Born notes what happened in Dodge County is being used as an example at the capital to help state legislatures understand this issue. The Beaver Dam Republican adds that in the short-term, crime will continue to be fought in Dodge County but wonders what long-term ramifications this turnover could have.
“This is significant for the Dodge County District Attorney’s Office…time will tell how this changes the way crime is prosecuted in Dodge County,” says Born. “Because we had a known prosecutor there for a long time. The governor’s going to appointment someone, we do not know who he’s going to appointment yet.
And depending on what kind of thinking they bring to the position…folks of Dodge County will certainly want to keep an eye on that. We need a prosecutor to be charging and charging correctly and charging based on the values of public safety.”
Born says hopefully whoever is appointed will do those things, but if not, then the citizens will have to vote for someone who will in the next election cycle.