Wisconsin prosecutor shortage; pay cited as key problem

Wisconsin prosecutors say a hiring problem is making it tough for the criminal justice system to work.

Dodge County is losing most of its prosecutors. Of the six it normally has, two just retired, two more are set to retire, one is on family medical leave and District Attorney Kurt Klomberg just resigned – blaming low pay for assistant district attorneys.

"This is a serious public safety crisis," Klomberg said. "We cannot hold offenders accountable without prosecutors. Police can do a great job arresting people, but if that person is not put in front of a judge in 48 hours, they will be released."

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Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said not much as changed so far. Authorities still send a probable cause statement to a prosecutor, who then reviews it and puts it in front of a judge. 

"We have not had one day to this point where we haven't had a prosecutor available to do that. And I don't I don't anticipate that changing at all in the future," said Schmidt.

Dodge County Court House

Bill Gergen, a criminal defense attorney, told FOX6 News he has not seen delays in defendants' constitutional right to a speedy trial.

"It’s a little too early to tell," he said. "You can’t have an adversarial system without adversaries. We have to have prosecutors in order to have a criminal justice system."

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The state has sent three part-time prosecutors to Dodge County who are working on a fill-in basis. Next week, the Wisconsin Department of Administration told FOX6 that Jefferson County will loan out a full-time assistant district attorney.

"Retirements happen, it's a great thing when somebody gets to retirement. Right now, the problem is, is they can't refill those positions when they're retiring," Schmidt said. "The pay progression problem, we’ve been talking about for years, and now it’s to the point where the legislature needs to do something to fix that, revamp it somehow, so that we can get prosecutors in to fill those roles.

"In the meantime, our citizens are going to remain safe. We have plans in place to deal with these challenges, and Dodge County is going to be just fine."

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Attorney General Josh Kaul said the compensation changes needed to address the problem must be addressed in the upcoming budget.

"We need to increase pay for assistant DAs," he said. "A lot of DA's offices, not just Dodge County, are having trouble recruiting prosecutors and on top of that, retaining folks."

Both Democratic and Republican leaders now say they are willing to pay prosecutors more. Right now, starting pay for assistant district attorneys is around $56,000 per year. One proposal would raise that to $70,000 and give current prosecutors raises.