Washington County officers hear request to extend public defender pay

FAYETTEVILLE – Washington County’s Justice of the Peace heard a motion Thursday to raise public defender pay to the same level as prosecutors.

Leana Houston, assistant public defender, told justices of the peace that lower pay for public defenders needed to be addressed.

Houston cited the county’s criminal justice system review of the pay gap.

The assessment suggests that a lack of pay equality between prosecutors and public defense creates “a revolving door for public defense as lawyers seek to do similar work for higher pay and often with more resources”.

Public defender Denny Hyslip said in a letter to the committee that within the last year a lawyer had moved from prosecutor to prosecutor’s office in order to get more salary. Two other lawyers went for other, higher-paying jobs. In his letter, Hyslip listed one assistant public defender and 15 assistant public defenders on his staff.

“The loss of three attorneys in one year puts the office in a state of constant fluctuation,” wrote Hyslip.

Blake Chancellor, another public attorney, briefed the justice of the peace on the conditions in the building that houses the public attorney’s office at 123 N. College Avenue, where a leaky roof and inoperative elevator are worrying the office. The Chancellor said the elevator was still inoperable and the county needed to check whether the cost of additional repairs outweighed the cost of a new elevator.

The Chancellor also said the elevator issues put the county at risk of facing complaints under federal law regarding Americans with disabilities. Chancellor said the ADA requires that all persons have equal access to all public parts of the building and without a lift, the offices on the second floor are not accessible according to the terms of the ADA. The Chancellor said the use of rooms on the ground floor to accommodate people with disabilities was “a patch, not a solution” that would not protect the county from ADA complaints.

The Quorum Court’s Finance and Budget Committee met Thursday to review budget submissions from the county assessor, public defender, and five district court judges.

The committee did not take any measures on the budgets in the special session on Thursday. Patrick Deakins District 5 Justice of the Peace and Committee Chairman has said that he would like the panel to review all budgets of elected district officials and district departments before acting on the entire budget.

The Finance and Budget Committee meets regularly on August 10th and has two special meetings scheduled for August 24th and 31st.

Deakins said he was still awaiting information on the cost of employee compensation for 2022.

Deakins said he wanted to have all of the individual budget requests reviewed before the regular monthly Finance and Budget Committee meeting in September, when the justices of the peace can begin reviewing the 2022 budget as a whole.

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