Prosecutors’ Pay

I blogged about judges’ salaries here. An article in the USA Today this morning prompted me to think a little bit about prosecutors’ pay. The article, available here, reports on several state and federal prosecutors’ offices that have “hired” lawyers to work for free. All the offices in question are fully staffed with paid lawyers, but saw an opportunity to get extra help at no cost, and simultaneously to provide experience to lawyers who might otherwise be out of work.

I haven’t heard of volunteer prosecutors in North Carolina, though perhaps there are some out there. Pursuant to G.S. 7A-65, elected district attorneys are paid “as provided in the Current Operations Appropriations Act,” i.e., as provided in the state budget. As far as I can tell, the last budget to alter their salaries was the 2008 budget, which raised them from $116,112 to $119,305. Elected district attorneys are also eligible for longevity pay under G.S. 7A-65, which effectively provides a 4.8% salary supplement for every five years of state service. Thus, an elected district attorney with more than fifteen but less than twenty years of state service would receive a $17,178 supplement.

Assistant district attorneys are likewise paid as provided in the budget. Again, the 2008 budget appears to contain the last salary alteration for assistant district attorneys. It provides as follows:

The district attorney . . . of a judicial district, with the approval of the Administrative Officer of the Courts . . . shall set the salaries of assistant district attorneys . . . in that district such that the average salaries of assistant district attorneys . . . in that district do not exceed seventy thousand nine hundred forty‑six dollars ($70,946), and the minimum salary of any assistant district attorney . . . is at least thirty‑seven thousand one hundred eighty‑two dollars ($37,182).

My understanding is that the Administrative Office of the Courts generally defers to the elected district attorneys’ salary decisions. Assistant district attorneys are also eligible for longevity pay as described above. So an assistant district attorney with more than five but less than ten years of experience who is making $65,000 would receive a salary supplement of $6,240.

How does all this stack up in context? As I noted in my post about judges’ salaries, the average North Carolina lawyer makes $113,000 per year. Every elected district attorney makes more than that, though relatively few assistant district attorneys probably do, even with longevity pay. Nationally, I had trouble finding appropriate comparison data. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2005 that the median salary for chief prosecutors nationwide was $85,000, but that appears to have included some “part-time offices,” so it may not be a very useful benchmark. I couldn’t find anything more than anecdotal reports about assistant prosecutors’ salaries. If anyone else knows of good data, please post a comment or let me know.

4 thoughts on “Prosecutors’ Pay”

  1. That’s interesting. Myself and several of my classmates are recent graduates and many of us are willing to work for free at the DA’s office to get experience and possibly job offers once positions become available. I was considering working for half the regular pay. The statute makes it seem like that is not an option, but then again, who’s going to complain about it if I am okay with it?


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