Lawmakers looking to cut budget and staffing levels of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala note that she has so many unfilled staff positions that the cuts should not affect performance, yet a statewide look shows her operation is pretty typical of state attorneys offices.
Almost all of Florida’s state attorneys – as well as Florida’s public defenders, for that matter – have offices full of empty desks as they struggle to keep a full staff with pay rates that state attorneys say can’t compete with the private sector.
Statewide in Florida there are more than 1,000 jobs open in state attorneys’ offices, including more than 250 jobs available for prosecutors.
“It’s not us usual to have openings throughout the year,” said Glenn Hess, state attorney for Florida’s 14th Judicial Circuit in Panama City, who is president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
That is particularly true with assistant state attorneys – the prosecutors. Hess said the state jobs can only compete with the private lawyer jobs until the young lawyers have enough experience to move on, which takes about two years. The other job openings around the office – from clerks to investigators, secretaries to paralegals, information technology specialists to witness counselors – typically get held open to save money, so the state attorneys can afford to pay more to prosecutors they want to try to keep.
“As one of our more senior members, I have two kinds of prosecutors in my office: those who are leaving, and those who are looking,” Hess said. “The reason being: the state attorneys and public defenders as well are not really paid commensurate with their experience, education and value. We start prosecutors at $40,000 a year.”
Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, serving Orange and Osceola counties, has 59 openings overall, including 22 for prosecutors, according to TransparancyFlorida.Gov. Her office is reporting slightly fewer openings, 53.5,overall, with the difference possibly attributable to the flow of paperwork between Orlando and Tallahassee as new hires come on board.
That means Ayala, who took office in January, still has to fill about 15 percent of her total staff, and about 14 percent of her 160 assistant state attorney jobs.
That’s pretty consistent with the levels of most of Florida’s other 19 state attorney’s offices, according to TransparancyFlorida.gov.
Statewide, about 10 percent of all state attorney office jobs are open, including about 12 percent of all prosecutors’ jobs. That adds up to more than 1,083 jobs available, including 269 assistant state attorney jobs.
Two state attorneys, Bernie McCabe of the 6th Judicial Circuit in Clearwater, and Katherine Fernandez Rundle of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami, have more open prosecutor jobs than Ayala. McCabe has 40; Fernandez Rundle, 38. Five state attorneys have higher percentages of their allotted numbers of prosecutor jobs open. Dennis Ward of the 16h Judicial Circuit in Key West has just five openings, but that represents 28 percent of his allotted prosecutorial staff. McCabe has 19 percent of his assistant state attorney jobs open, according to TransparancyFlorida.gov.
State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa has fewer prosecutor openings, 18, but more job openings overall, with 61. Fernandez Rundle has 102 job openings overall, according to TransparancyFlorida.gov.
Ayala has been in a political firestorm since she announced in March that she would not pursue death penalty prosecutions, because she concluded they were unjust for all. That has led to budget proposals in the Florida House of Representatives to cut her budget by $1.3 million, and 21 authorized job slots, to send money to other districts that would prosecute death penalties. The Florida Senate has a smaller cut, $622,000.
Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned 23 of her first-degree murder cases to State Attorney Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit. Ayala is suing, challenging Scott’s authority to do so, and seeking to get those cases back.
As it happens, King, of Ocala, is the only state attorney in Florida who has virtually a full staff. TransparancyFlorida.gov shows that his staff, authorized for 240 employees including 109 prosecutors, has just two vacancies: one for an assistant state attorney, and one for a secretary.