OCONTO — With the departure of the assistant district attorney, Oconto County officials hope an incentive will help get the attention of hard-to-find candidates.
The county administration committee recently approved the provision of relocation money to an attorney willing to take the job.
“We want to try to get somebody here and get them to commit for a period of time, so we don’t have to go through that again,” District Attorney Edward Burke said.
District attorneys and assistant attorneys are state employees, so the county is unable to pay additional salary.
“If there’s a candidate coming in and salary is an issue…we want to see if we can use that as a tool,” County Administrator Erik Pritzl said.
Indeed, the starting wage for ADAs is $26.70 an hour statewide, although current ADAs can transfer and keep their higher wages.
That rate — which translates to just over $55,500 a year — might be hard for many applicants to accept, Pritzl said.
The average salary for a lawyer in Wisconsin ranges from around $60,000 to $100,000, according to several online job sites.
“There’s a real big issue with ADA (compensation) in the state,” Pritzl said.
On the state jobs website on Wednesday, 36 ADA openings were listed, not counting “multiple” positions in Milwaukee County.
That’s more than Pritzl discovered when he checked last month. He said it was contrary to the objective of public safety.
“You can clearly see that there is a staff shortage,” he said. “I think there needs to be a bigger effort to look at that.”
Lisa Rowe’s last day as assistant Oconto County district attorney was May 4, although she will return to handle a few cases, including a trial this summer.
Until the vacancy is filled, the administration of justice in the county will be affected, Burke said.
“We have big problems,” he said. “We don’t commit (many) crimes because we have so many crimes. Of course people want their pound of flesh, and I don’t even have a butter knife to give them their pound. It’s ridiculous what they expect us to do with nothing.
As of May 18, 92 felony cases and 38 misdemeanor cases have been filed in Oconto County Circuit Court. Last year, the totals were 288 and 177 respectively, according to online court records. In 2016, 208 crimes and 292 misdemeanors were filed.
Replacing Rowe would allow his office “to meet the minimum requirements” for what needs to be done, Burke said.
“We could use all the help we could get,” he said.
Pritzl said he’s heard, but has yet to confirm, that some counties have even hired a fully county-funded ADA.
If it’s possible, “we may have to look at that as well,” he said.
Rowe, who arrived in Oconto County in July 2019, is moving to Dane County, where she will work exclusively on sexual assault and domestic violence cases.
Pursuing these cases “is what is close to my heart,” she said, adding that it is rewarding to empower victims and help them find the courage to stand up to their abusers.
“I’ve seen firsthand how the validation of a guilty plea or verdict helps victims make significant strides on their path to recovery,” she said via email. “Of course, we don’t win all the cases; but without even the hope of justice, we lose the human potential of so many victims because of depression, drugs and despair.
Rowe thanked the people of Oconto County for the opportunity to serve them for the past three years.
“I have enjoyed my position here and hope my efforts have made the community a better and safer place for everyone,” she said.
Rowe is only the second person to serve as an ADA in Oconto County. She succeeded Robert Mraz, who started in 1981 as a part-time ADA and part-time county attorney. He remained in these two positions until 2013, becoming a full-time ADA when the new state budget allocated additional funds.
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Contact Kent Tempus at (920) 431-8226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.