Letter: Kane County lawyers deserve better

By on September 9, 2010

Criminal defense lawyers practicing primarily in Kane County—but who also defend clients throughout the Chicago area—have the bittersweet pleasure of running into former Kane County assistant state’s attorneys and public defenders now working for other counties.

Although it is always good to see a friendly face when you’re not on your “home court,” those faces shouldn’t be there. They should still be practicing in Kane County. To confuse matters more, to a person, these lawyers took either demotions, or at best, considered their professional movement lateral.

Why, you ask, would a lawyer take a demotion to work as a prosecutor or public defender in another county? The answer is simple: money.

For a long time, Kane County assistant state’s attorneys and public defenders have seen their salaries lag well behind those of their peers in surrounding counties. Despite this gap, these lawyers would remain in Kane County as a result of a professional quality of life that is second to none, and due to the ability of lawyers to participate in the prosecution and defense of the types of crimes that only Cook County, with its much longer “dues-paying period,” can match. Although these reasons for staying still exist, the salary gap has grown far too large.

Starting salaries for prosecutors and public defenders in Chicago-area counties, except Will County, run anywhere from 26 percent to 33 percent higher than Kane county. Will County is the closest to Kane in the curmudgeon category—the pay in Will County is only 14 percent higher. Salaries of more experienced Kane County government lawyers lag similarly. When you consider that, on average, law school graduates have incurred debts ranging from $90,000 to $150,000, it is no wonder that Kane County is experiencing such a legal brain drain.

I personally know and work with most of the prosecutors and public defenders in Kane County. They are an incredibly dedicated and talented bunch of lawyers. They deserve better.

Gary V. Johnson
Former Kane County State’s Attorney
St. Charles