Local attorneys: Attorneys talk

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As local attorneys, we were stunned to read the Sunday Pilot article attributing "Turnover Troubles" in the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office to low salaries.

First, a clarification: Roesink's lowest paid deputy, an attorney fresh from law school, makes $44,000; Roesink makes $82,854; Assistant DA Kerry St. James makes $80,000; and other deputies make anywhere from $45,000 to $62,000. Attorneys who have recently left the DA's Office have made between $45,000 and $62,000. They all receive benefits including health insurance and retirement plans. Many of these attorneys, including Mike Stern, a former elected District Attorney for the 7th Judicial District, and Tammy Jensen and Amy Fitch, both remarkably experienced child sex-assault prosecutors, were dedicated career prosecutors who did not leave because of the pay. In fact, none of the prior newspaper articles about the many attorneys who have left have cited money as the reason for their departure.

Including Roesink, there are nine attorney positions in the 14th Judicial District. In the time Roesink has served as elected District Attorney, there has been unprecedented turnover in the DA's office. Every attorney position in the office, except those held by Roesnink and Assistant DA Kerry St. James, has turned over at least once. Many have turned over repeatedly. It is wrong and misleading to say that this kind of turnover is normal or acceptable. It is a lame excuse to blame the turnover on low salaries. Deputies who have left the office have told Roesink that they are leaving because of management, or rather mismanagement, not because of money. Roesink has consistently ignored their concerns and offered excuses for their departure.

This instability in the DA's office has affected the office's credibility and its ability to consistently prosecute crimes in a fair and even-handed manner. It has wasted taxpayer money and valuable court time, and has led to unnecessary delays and injustice. This affects our entire judicial district and every person in it. It is time for the District Attorney's Office to be held accountable for its dysfunctional management practices.

Currently, every deputy district attorney in the 14th Judicial District is a white male. There are no attorneys of color. Every female attorney in the office has fled. Roesink's claim that she looks for attorneys with "fire in their belly" is simply public posturing. Her assertion that she seeks attorneys who, "really want to represent the victims" is incredulous, especially in light of recent events. Her office certainly didn't represent the "victims" in the Sweet Pea case. Nor does it heed the many "victims" who routinely ask that cases be dismissed or accused people be given treatment or pay restitution instead of being incarcerated.

Roesink's and St. James' autocratic micromanagement deprives deputy district attorneys of the autonomy and discretion needed to do their jobs. Deputies are not allowed to resolve cases based on their own judgment and assessment of facts, with law enforcement and victim input. Instead, they are required to obey stringent and often senseless office policies with little concern for individualized facts or real justice. They must get approval from Roesink and St. James for case resolutions, even in what should be the most minor and routine matters. No wonder deputies leave.

Interestingly, the Pilot ran another article on Sunday, "Employers can use intangibles as benefits," detailing how respect, care and competent management can be the key to retaining even low-paid employees. This article cited job autonomy, learning opportunities, and support from supervisors as having a profound effect on worker's level of job satisfaction. We hope Roesink and St. James will read and learn from this article and begin taking responsibility for the problems in their office instead of making excuses.

Ron Smith, Sheryl Uhlmann, Leslie A. Goldstein, Ralph A. Cantafio, Cheryl Hardy-Moore, Randall Klauzer, William S. Schurman, Tammy Jenson, Michele M. Desoer and James "Sandy" Horner

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