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Give them a raise.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Lane County's public defenders haven't had a pay raise since the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV. On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears squared off in Super Bowl XLI.

Do the math: XLI-XXV equals XVI, which means the attorneys who protect the constitutional rights of the poor have been staring at the same number on their pay stubs for 16 years.

It's about time they got a bump.

Like the prosecutors they face in court, public defenders aren't in the legal profession to get rich. They work for peanuts compared with what they could get doing almost any other kind of legal work, including crossing the aisle and becoming a prosecutor.

Meanwhile, as Super Bowls come and go, Lane County's public defenders eat the ever-increasing costs for everything from health insurance to office rent on a paycheck that's the same as it was when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. That's a surefire formula for discouraging passionate, altruistic attorneys - saddled with burdensome law school loans and hoping to start their families - from taking the vow of poverty necessary to be a public defender.

Lobbyists for the state's public defenders and the Oregon State Bar hope to win an additional $29 million in public defender funding from a state budget that's enjoying rising revenues for the first time in years. The additional money would represent more than just an overdue increase in compensation.

The state bar is considering a new ethical standard that forbids public defenders from accepting more cases than they are qualified to handle. A statewide survey suggests that public defense lawyers may be averaging up to 30 percent more cases than the new standard may allow.

That means Oregon will need to hire more public defenders. Those potential job applicants won't be looking in help wanted ads from 1991 for work. And if they see 1991 pay scales in a 2007 ad, they're not going to be interested.
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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Editorials; Public defender pay hasn't gone up since 1991
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 5, 2007
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