Pay raises sought for prosecutors and public defenders in McHenry County court amid recruiting struggles

Lower salaries make it ‘extremely difficult’ to retain attorneys in both offices

The McHenry County courthouse in Woodstock.

McHenry County Board members are expected to vote next Tuesday on raises for lawyers in the state’s attorney’s and public defender’s offices.

“The State’s Attorneys’ Office is having and extremely difficult time recruiting and retaining effective, professional and skilled Assistant State’s Attorneys,” according to the resolution seeking the raises.

It said other collar counties around Chicago pay substantially more to their attorneys and the work of the offices has “greatly increased” since the SAFE-T Act has been implemented.

Attorneys in both offices, headed up by McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally and Public Defender Mark Cook, have had more responsibility and put in more hours since the part of the act took effect in September that ended cash bail in Illinois, including working weekends and holidays.

Recently, Kane, Lake and Will counties have enacted “substantial increases across the board,” the resolution states. The counties received an average of $15,000 to $17,000 in annual increases for their assistant state’s attorneys, “leaving McHenry County significantly below the averages of those three counties,” the resolution said.

The average starting salary for an assistant state’s attorney in Kane, Lake and Will counties is $75,970, verses $67,637 in McHenry County court, the resolution said.

The average salary of a supervising assistant state’s attorney in McHenry County is $91,611. The average salary for the same position in Kane, Lake and Will is $121,098, the resolution said.

Attorneys who want to work in a state’s attorneys office “could simply go to an adjacent county and make significantly more money from day one,” the resolution said.

Another resolution seeking raises in the public defenders’ office says salaries in both offices have “always been in parity ... since Assistant Public Defenders have the same qualifications, duties, and responsibilities as their equivalent in the State’s Attorneys’ Office.”

Therefore, an increase in the state’s attorneys’ office would create quite a gap between the two offices.

For example, the resolution states, should the increases be approved, a starting assistant state’s attorney would earn $75,000, while the current entry-level assistant public defender’s salary is $67,637.

This gap would put the public defender’s office in an “extremely difficult position recruiting [attorneys] who want to work in a Public Defender’s Office when they could simply go across the hall and make significantly more money from day one,” the resolution said.

Both offices want “to be competitive in the legal community when it comes to retention and recruitment of the highly skilled” attorneys that citizens of the county “need and deserve,” the resolutions said.

Should the resolution be adopted next week, the increases would take effect March 4.

Total costs of the “emergency” appropriations for the fiscal year 2024 budget to increase salaries in the public defender’s office is $147,770, and $481,012 in the state’s attorneys’ office, the resolutions said.

The new proposed salaries are as follow:

  • assistant state’s attorney and assistant public defender: $75,000
  • senior assistant state’s attorney and senior assistant public defender: $83,000
  • “second chair” criminal assistant state’s attorney and “second chair” assistant public defender: $92,000
  • principal assistant state’s attorney and principal assistant public defender: $99,000
  • lead assistant state’s attorney and supervisor public defender: $115,000
  • supervisor assistant state’s attorney: $120,000 (There is no comparable position in APD’s office)
  • chief assistant state’s attorney and deputy chief assistant public defender: $130,000
  • first assistant state’s attorney: $160,000 (There is no comparable position in the APD’s office)
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