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NY Prosecutors Leaving Amid Tougher Laws, Low Salaries

Photo: Shutterstock/Steve Cukrov

New York City prosecutors are leaving in droves, citing pandemic burnout, low salaries and two laws that fundamentally changed the nature of their jobs, reports the New York Times. “They just simply can’t do it anymore,” said Darcel Clark, the Bronx district attorney. “The money is not where it should be, and the work-life balance is just unmanageable.”

This year alone, 36 have left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and 44 have left Manhattan’s. At least 28 have left the Bronx, and the nine Staten Island assistant district attorneys who have left this year represent about 10 percent of that office’s prosecutorial staff. The Queens office is on track this year to more than double last year’s resignations.

In the past year, the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys, who have about 500 prosecutors each, lost almost a fifth of that work force, a sharp increase from attrition averages before 2020.

The pandemic arrived in New York two years ago has disrupted nearly all court proceedings. At the same time, two new state laws took effect governing discovery — the sharing of evidence and other case-related material. Prosecutors say the measures, which were intended to make trials fairer to defendants, create onerous amounts of paperwork.

One law requires prosecutors to obtain and hand over hundreds of documents on many cases, a task that can impede interviewing witnesses and preparing for court.

Another law ties the handover of that material to the speedy trial clock, creating deadline pressure for prosecutors to collect all the material once charges are filed.

If a defendant blew into a breathalyzer, a defense attorney is entitled to six months worth of calibration reports on that device. Prosecutors also must hand over a similar number of calibration reports filed after the defendant used the device.

District attorneys say their budgets are too small to pay prosecutors competitively. Despite the cost of living in Manhattan and Brooklyn, starting salaries for prosecutors in those boroughs is $72,000. In the Bronx it is $75,121.

Clark said her office’s lawyers, inundated with paperwork, could make $30,000 more doing similar tasks for law firms, which might also let them work from home. “Why not do that?” she said.


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