12% pay gap gives prosecutors blue flu.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
by ERIC HERMAN AND STEVE PATTERSON
The criminal justice system could slow to a snail's pace today, as hundreds of prosecutors take the day off to protest the latest salary offer from the County Board.
As many as two-thirds of the 520 prosecutors staffing Cook County's felony courtrooms are expected to be no-shows, officials in the state's attorney's office said. Prosecutors throughout the 835-lawyer office are being urged to attend today's County Board meeting instead.
"I told all the assistant state's attorneys for special prosecutions -- gang crimes, financial crimes -- to attend that meeting," said Scott Cassidy, chief of special prosecutions. "They're using their vacation time."
The coordinated day off by prosecutors demonstrates their fury toward the County Board and its president, Todd Stroger, over what they call broken promises to pay them as much as public defenders.
The board is offering the non-unionized prosecutors a one-time raise of 3 percent, plus a lump payment of $1,000. Meanwhile, the unionized public defenders are getting cost-of-living adjustments retroactive to 2004, amounting to a raise of more than 12 percent, according to Bernie Murray, chief of criminal prosecutions.
In February, Stroger closed the gap between prosecutors' and public defenders' salaries. But that did not include the 12 percent.
"There is a 12-percent gap now between people who have to prosecute criminals and the people who defend them," said prosecutor Robert Hovey.
In a blistering letter to Stroger, State's Attorney Richard Devine said Monday that 52 prosecutors have quit since February, "twice the normal rate."
In a statement, Stroger's office said, "We do not have the revenue to pay for [cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs] at this time. . . . How can the Cook County State's Attorney ask for COLAs when frontline workers are being fired, such as doctors, nurses and janitors?"
COLAs for prosecutors were "contingent upon the sale of land at Oak Forest Hospital," which the county is still pursuing, Stroger's office said.
"I have more friends talking about quitting. And it's not the young people. It's the senior people. They have families. They have tuitions to pay."