Needing public defenders, Franklin Co. raises pay

MALONE — Franklin County approved an increase of the starting salary for attorneys in the public defender’s office to build interest in positions that have been impossible to fill so far.

Thomas Soucia, the county’s public defender, sat at a large table surrounded by county legislators. For 15 minutes he explained to them why offices in his wing of the county building were empty. He has two attorney positions open and two more that will be empty by the end of the month. No one is applying to fill any of them.

“One position has been opened for a couple of months. I have two attorneys leaving this month, so they are coming open now,” Soucia wrote in an email to the Enterprise. “The Conflict Defender’s staff attorney position has been opened for over a year.”

Soucia told the Board of Legislators on Thursday that he had been reaching to anyone in the area with a law degree. He had gone to job fairs. He was following leads from co-workers and friends. Nothing was working, and he cited three reasons: the long hours, the fact that it’s in Malone and the advertised salary of $55,000 a year.

“I think that we have to realize that $55,000 is not even in the ballpark anymore,” Soucia said.

Soucia said the county is competing with other counties and with New York City, most of which offer at least $10,000 more. Soucia said Clinton County offers public defense attorney assistants $66,000 to start, and then $70,000 after the first year.

With the new resolution letting the Franklin County attorney assistant’s position be advertised at $65,000 a year with possible benefits, Soucia hopes that more attorneys will apply.

“Hopefully, the change in the salary will attract more applicants. The goal is to fill the positions at the 65k salary,” Soucia wrote.

But Soucia also addressed other things he believes make young law graduates hesitant to apply.

“If you’re 25 and single, it’s not that great a place to be,” Soucia said of Malone.

Soucia was born and raised in Malone. He raised his kids in Malone, but he sees that for those who wish to see other young people and experience the offerings New York City has, its not their top choice.

Soucia also said many young people, specifically millennials, are unwilling to work between 12 and 16 hours a day. He said that back when he was younger, it was more something that you did. Not so anymore, he said.

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