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The prosecution resists
COOK COUNTY | Lawyers say Stroger, commissioners 'will pay the price' if they don't get raise

Thursday, July 26, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by ERIC HERMAN AND STEVE PATTERSON

Prosecutors accused Cook County Board President Todd Stroger on Wednesday of breaking a promise -- an offense carrying a possible sentence of increased political pressure, higher crime and walkouts in the state's attorney's office.
The lawyers ripped Stroger after learning he will oppose a 12 percent pay increase for the state's attorney's office this year after promising to deliver it. The bump would have brought pay for prosecutors in line with that of public defenders, who represent poor criminal defendants.
The County Board is expected to take up the issue at a meeting Tuesday, but Stroger plans to oppose the raise because of budget constraints.
» Click to enlarge image
 
UNEVEN JUSTICE
Officials say their pay disparity with public defenders forces experienced Cook County prosecutors to leave their jobs as they struggle to raise families and pay tuition. Since the first of the year, the office has lost 112 prosecutors, including 44 let go because of budget cuts. Pay parity would cost the county $8.7 million. Here's a comparison of starting salaries and salaries for attorneys with seven years of experience:
STARTING SALARIES
$48,800 for nonunion assistant Cook County state's attorney
$43,000 for unionized public defender, though over time they will outpace the state's attorneys
7 YEARS' EXPERIENCE
$70,000 for an assistant Cook County state's attorney
$75,600 for a public defender
THE QUOTE
"Here's our message to Cook County prosecutors: Get a union. Organize." -- Bob Galhotra, president of the public defenders union, writing on the union's Web site.
SOURCE: Dick Devine's office
Still waiting for 12% pay hike
"Every one of these commissioners is going to pay the price if they don't take care of us," First Assistant State's Attorney Robert Milan said Wednesday. "This president and his staff are going to pay the price if they don't take care of us."
"This world is upside down when public defenders who represent criminals make more than the men and women in this office," Milan said angrily.
The pay disparity between the unionized public defenders and the nonunion prosecutors has been festering for more than a year. In February, Stroger closed the gap. But that did not include cost-of-living adjustments retroactive to 2004 that the public defenders received, amounting to a raise of more than 12 percent.
Stroger passed a county budget in part by promising to pay prosecutors the cost-of-living adjustment this year, Commissioner Mike Quigley said. At a board meeting in early July, Stroger reiterated his support but did not say when the cost-of-living increase would come.
In the last two weeks, Stroger has talked with State's Attorney Dick Devine and county commissioners about working out a deal.
"We had been led to believe that this was going to be done," said Milan, the No. 2 lawyer in Devine's office. Tuesday night, "we found out that's not true."
Threaten action without raise
Stroger's spokeswoman, Ibis Antongiorgi, said he "is committed to cost-of-living increases for the state's attorneys and for all nonunion employees, but the issue is finding a way to pay for them."
The promised raises were "contingent upon the sale of land at Oak Forest Hospital, and that sale hasn't happened yet," she said. Giving the state's attorneys the increase this year would mean taking money away from county health services, she said, adding that Stroger never promised the raises this year.
But Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he was shocked to learn of Stroger's decision because he had been assured that he would remain open to ideas about funding the increase this year.
"This is beyond frustrating. The reason he got his '07 budget passed was because of the commitment he made to give the state's attorneys these increases," Quigley said. "So now you begin '08 by breaking '07 promises?"
Milan warned of a "mass exodus" of experienced prosecutors if the raise does not pass this year, creating a "public safety issue" as the office loses more trials and criminals go free. Walkouts are also possible, he said.
'It's incredibly unfair'
Though the state Supreme Court has ruled that the state's attorneys cannot unionize, sources said they might challenge the law through a new organizing drive. Other possible actions include mass sick days and refusals to plea-bargain cases, which would slow down the justice system, sources said.
"The only difference between us and [public defenders] is that they're union and we're not. It's incredibly unfair. It tells us that they do not value the work that we do," prosecutor Maria McCarthy said.


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