Low pay, burnout and concerns about racial justice are among the reasons that prosecutor positions are going unfilled across the country, according to prosecutors and association officials who spoke with Reuters.
Another problem is a lack of trial time for newer prosecutors, as courts prioritize the most serious cases following the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reports. Lawyers who join a district attorney’s office to gain experience end up leaving when they can’t get it.
The “prosecutor shortage” extends throughout the country, said Nelson Bunn, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, in an interview with Reuters. “It’s not limited to large jurisdictions versus small jurisdictions.”
Reuters pointed out that short-staffed prosecutors’ offices are unable to prosecute some cases because there aren’t enough people to handle the work.
The story made its point with these numbers:
• San Diego County, California, has the second largest district attorney’s office in California at 330 lawyers, according to Reuters. The number of applicants to prosecutor positions in San Diego County decreased 28% between 2019 and 2021, according to Dwain Woodley, the chief deputy district attorney.
• The number of openings in the Salt Lake County, Utah, district attorney’s office ranges from about 21 to 25. The office should have 133 lawyers.
• In Maricopa County, Arizona, the number of prosecutor vacancies increased nearly 53% between July 2020 and April 2022.
• Brian Mason, district attorney of Colorado’s 17th Judicial District, posted 10 new job openings in August. No more than one or two people applied for any of the positions, which were still vacant in late March.
Two other news stories highlight problems in other offices.
In New York City, prosecutors are “leaving in droves,” according to previous ABA Journal coverage citing a story from the New York Times. The newspaper attributed the losses to low pay, “pandemic burnout” and new discovery laws that increase paperwork.
In Philadelphia, 47 prosecutors left the district attorney’s office in less than five months, according to Law.com. That followed a loss of around 70 lawyers between January 2021 and November 2021.