The Governor and Legislature should increase the Public Defenders' salaries. I do not know if the $2 million for which Mr. Willocks is asking is the right amount, but a significant increase is in order.
Good people are attracted to good salaries. Though attorneys in private practice can make much more than the $72,000 per year starting salary for an AAG, a reasonable, solid salary will attract talented individuals to public service.
Strong indigent defense is important to our quality of life. As Mr. Willocks said, defending the indigent is the hallmark of a just society. There are other reasons to support robust indigent defense. In many cases in which innocent people are wrongly convicted, shoddy defense work contributed to their conviction. In these cases, low quality public defense becomes a public safety issue. Not only do wrongful convictions punish innocent people, they leave the true perpetrators on the streets to offend again.
Public Defenders are overworked and underpaid, two circumstances that cause people to perform poorly. A higher budget allocation would allow the PD's Office to hire more attorneys to reduce the workload and offer higher salaries to attract talented attorneys and reward those already serving at PDs.
With the recent rash of violent crime throughout the Territory, increased funding for indigent defense may not seem like a priority. However, vigorous defense of those accused of crimes protects all of us and keeps our society free.
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.