Starting prosecutors get first pay bump in 3 years, but the situation is dire in the Keys

Determinate businessmen walking out office center holding briefcases cooperation
The state has to send temporary fill-ins to administer justice, Monroe County State Attorney says.

Starting prosecutor salaries at the Broward County State Attorney’s Office increased this month by 20% to $60,000 a year — the first increase the Legislature has approved in three years.

In Palm Beach County, it went up 14% to $57,000 a year.

But Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward is not sure the boost is going to help him attract new talent to his office, given the pay he can offer prosecutors and cost of housing in the Florida Keys.

The average South Florida rent is more than $2,800 — and skewing even higher in the Keys. Using the general rule that housing costs should be no more than 30% of one’s monthly gross income, the average rent is still unaffordable for these lawyers making the starting salary. And that’s even with the new boost.

Ward’s office is down more than 40% from full strength for prosecuting lawyers. The situation is so dire, the state sends temporary lawyers to help him staff the county’s courtrooms.

“I don’t know how long we can go on like this,” Ward said, noting that he uses money out of his due process budget to put his temp lawyers in a hotel, where he can get a break on the rate.

Prosecutors and public defenders from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in March had a news conference sounding the alarm about young lawyers leaving public service in droves as final negotiations on the state budget wound down. And the bump in starting pay that the Legislature approved a few days later survived DeSantis’ veto pen.

But Ward says that action is not going to solve the squeeze in his community that’s been building for years, well before the high cost of housing started grabbing headlines on the mainland. With second homes and the tourist economy driving up the prices, especially in Key West, there’s no place like Hialeah, or western Broward County for them to live, he said.

Ward has offered prosecutor positions to people who decided they couldn’t make the numbers work after they started looking for a place to live.

“They’ll call you like four or five days later and say, ‘There’s no way I can afford this with the salary you’re paying me,’” Ward said.

He’s tried some advance scouting.

“We’re actually having some of my senior staff who are calling realtors and asking, ‘We need some space for some of our prosecutors to stay,'” he said.

But the conversation ends quickly, Ward said. “We come up with some numbers and they say, ‘Oh, really?'”

State Attorney offices in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties also report difficulties attracting applicants for open positions, given the high cost of living there.

Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said he’s hoping that the new boost is going to make a difference. There are also other perks, such as a benefits package his office says is worth $40,000 and the satisfaction of being a part of the search for justice.

“I hope this will allow us to recruit and retain new attorneys who want to make this community better for everyone,” Pryor said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]

One comment

  • YYep

    July 12, 2022 at 8:54 pm

    It is sad Florida can not keep the math.
    But who needs it when people are willing to buy one mortgage for the price of 3

Comments are closed.


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