Letter from DA Galligan To Town Justices Shines Light on ADA Departures, Hiring/Retention Problems
(Following is the text of a recent letter from District Attorney Meagan Galligan sent to town and village justices across Sullivan County. A source who did not want to be identified shared its contents today with The SullivanTimes).
I apologize for the delay in response; I have been covering Justice Court this week and have tried to compile for you the most comprehensive response possible.
I appreciate your inquiry with respect to the turnover of prosecutors in Justice Courts. As you may know, recently, three of my prosecutors have accepted positions at other government agencies for significantly increased salaries, including at the Attorney General’s Office, Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, and Sullivan County Attorney’s Office.
My Office invests tremendous time in the training of new attorneys to provide the most competent representation of the People of the State of New York in Court to protect the rights of victims and defendants alike. Each of these prosecutors met the three-year commitment I requested he or she make when hired by my predecessor, and each performed very well for my Office. I am proud of their work, and I had no choice but to wish them well and support them in their efforts to earn more money in positions that continue to serve prosecutorial interests. Immediately prior to the implementation of bail and discovery reform legislation, many District Attorneys participated in a voluntary salary study for the purpose of evaluating average pay in areas throughout the state.
The following information illuminates the issue faced in Sullivan County with respect to retention of talented attorneys to serve our County, bearing in mind that not every Office participated in the survey: In Dutchess County, the starting salary for an ADA is approximately $69,000. This is $16,000 more than the starting salary of an ADA in Sullivan County. After two years of satisfactory job performance, an ADA there receives a raise to $86,376. This salary is more than an ADA with 10 years of experience could currently expect to earn in Sullivan County.
In Orange County, immediately prior to the implementation of bail and discovery reform legislation, ADA salaries ranged from about $63,000 for ADAs out of law school to approximately $155,000 for a Chief ADA. This is approximately $10,000 less than the starting salary of an ADA in Sullivan County; at five years of employment, ADAs in Orange County earn around $84,000, which is about $15,000 more than an ADA in Sullivan County could expect to earn at that level.
In Putnam County, the minimum salary for an ADA is $65,000, with and ADA with four years of experience earning about $85,000. In Westchester County, a new ADA starts at about $68,000, increasing to more than $93,000 for ADAs with just 5 years of experience, and Chief ADAs earn up to $194,000.
Talent retention and consistency is of paramount importance to me as District Attorney. Of note, where cases have arisen during COVID suspensions of justice court proceedings, it is axiomatic that the prosecutor to whom the case has been assigned is the prosecutor in the best position to bring the case toward trial in justice court.
The implementation of bail and discovery reform, coinciding with COVID delays, has put tremendous stress upon District Attorneys’ Offices throughout the State. In Sullivan County, as the County prepared for what was believed would be significant budget restrictions as a result of low sales tax and other factors at the inception of the COVID crisis, and as those concerns persisted in the 2021 budget cycle, I agreed to operate with eight ADAs, rather than the ten ADA positions previously budgeted for my Office. This allowed me to spare my ADAs salary reductions, as ADAs are “at will” employees, not subject to collective bargaining or union protections.
As we have ostensibly been “made whole” by the federal government, and leading into the continuing challenges of discovery reform, which require tremendous time investments in every case, including for those cases for which plea bargains are struck, the staffing of neighboring prosecutors’ offices is of interest in fashioning my budget going forward.
Both Ulster and Dutchess County have increased staffing by at least six for next year, for the purpose of keeping up with the demands of discovery reform. It is reasonable to believe that my Office will need to re-budget not only the two positions lost to COVID, but also additional ADA and support staff positions to keep up with discovery demands and meet the additional time burdens of body-worn camera review as the New York State Police implement that program throughout the State and more local police agencies look to do the same. With all of this in mind, your consideration of support for my 2022 budget proposal is much appreciated.
As we move into the budget season, I am happy to share my proposal with you in the event that you choose to communicate support of it to our Legislature. I look forward to continuing to answer your questions on this matter moving forward.