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Prosecutors, public defenders to get pay raises under proposed Florida budget

Miami-Dade’s state attorney told legislators that low salaries had contributed to her office losing roughly 80 prosecutors in the past year.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle led the charge for the pay raises this legislative session.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle led the charge for the pay raises this legislative session.
Published Mar. 9|Updated Mar. 10

TALLAHASSEE — Prosecutors and public defenders in Florida could receive pay raises of up to $10,000 on top of an inflation adjustment of just above 5 percent under the budget that state lawmakers are negotiating for the upcoming fiscal year.

The proposed pay bumps come as South Florida prosecutors pressured state lawmakers for increases, saying they were woefully underpaid, leaving in droves and that shortages and turnover were “endangering public safety.”

Florida lawmakers agreed to the pay raises on Wednesday as they finalized negotiations on a more than $100 billion state budget. The Legislature still has to vote on the budget and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has veto power over the proposal.

In earlier budget negotiations, lawmakers had settled on $5,000 pay increases and the inflation wage adjustments. But on Wednesday night, they added $10 million more for salary increases.

As it stands now, assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders and assistant public defender chiefs would be eligible for pay increases ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. The pay raises would be effective July 1.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle led the charge in the fight this legislative session. In February, she traveled to Tallahassee and told lawmakers that “shamefully low salaries” had contributed to her office losing about 80 prosecutors in the last year.

“It’s a public safety crisis,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said at a press conference last week. “People want to be prosecutors. They just can’t afford it.”

Without pay increases and amid rising costs of living, prosecutors and public defenders worried that they would not be able to compete with other major cities for the best young talent.

After lawmakers agreed to the pay raises, Fernandez Rundle shared the “good news” with her staff in an email Tuesday afternoon.

“The Legislature has heard our call regarding increasing salaries for our SAO employees and assuming nothing changes, our employees are set to receive, what I believe may be, unprecedented salary increases!” Fernandez Rundle wrote.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren welcomed the news Wednesday.

“Public safety doesn’t happen by chance,” he said. “You have to invest in public safety.”

Like other state attorney’s offices, Warren’s has dealt with higher than normal staff turnover in recent years, a problem he attributed to low pay and the lucrative potential of other legal jobs. First-year prosecutors in his office currently make a starting salary of $53,000 a year. They can sometimes make double or triple that amount in the private sector.

The increase can help prosecutors’ offices remain competitive and help with retention, Warren said.

“If you or your loved one is a victim of a crime, you want to make sure the prosecutor handling your case is a top-notch attorney,” Warren said. “That’s why it’s so important we’re investing in prosecutors.”

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Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez also shared the news with his staff, and said the pay raises lawmakers plan to include in the budget are “historic.”

“I’ve been with the office for almost 32 years and lobbying in Tallahassee for more than 25 years. Prior to this session, we had never achieved across the board raises at this level,” he said.

In his email, Martinez vowed to work to further increase the salaries of support staff next fiscal year.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.

This story was updated to reflect new updates in budget negotiations.

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