As Albemarle County supervisors sort through the budget, public defenders are once again asking for the same pay as prosecutors.
They say the side of the courtroom you're on shouldn't make a difference in pay. Public defenders are asking the county to pay them the same as their counterparts in the prosecutor’s office. They say they want this problem fixed because it raises issues of inequality for the people they represent.
"You have these two sets of attorneys on each side of the bar and they're trying the same case and they're getting unequal pay,” said Robert Gest, a member of the citizens advisory committee of the Charlottesville-Albemarle public defender office.
Public defenders say in Charlottesville and Albemarle County they receive on average about 25 percent less than prosecutors. They're asking for equal pay, looking for about $74,000 from the county to help bridge that gap. That's less that .02 percent of the $349 million budget.
"So we're asking for a very small amount of money to remedy a very big discrepancy,” said public defender Jim Hingeley.
Public defenders often work with minorities, the poor, and those who can't afford representation. The pay as it stands now doesn't allow highly experienced people to stay around, making it unfair to those they defend.
"It seems as though not only are the lawyers, the public defenders, getting second-class pay but the people that we represent are getting second-class treatment,” Hingeley said.
They say if the county doesn't put up the funds, it will take the county back to a time of discrimination and segregation.
"If we have a system where people can't get equal treatment before the bar of justice what we're actually returning to is where people are treated unfairly and treated differently and I just can't stand by and see that happen,” Gest said.
Charlottesville has already included the funds in its preliminary budget. Now public defenders want to see the county do the same.
Supervisors say they will consider this pay equity proposal as they move into their budget discussions.
Albemarle Public Defenders Push for Pay EquityMore>>