1 in 4 Kansas public defenders quit last fiscal year

TOPEKA — A record 1 in 4 Kansas public defenders quit last fiscal year, with many blaming high caseloads and low salaries.

Among them was Ruslan Ivanov, who told KCUR-FM that he typically juggled between 60 and 90 cases and sometimes worked seven days a week. On one trip to Colorado, he stood in front of a breathtaking mountain view and started thinking about a case.

“I thought about, ‘I need to do something. Is there something that I forgot? Is there something that I’m missing?'” he said.

The Board of Indigents’ Defense Services’ executive director, Pat Scalia, has asked lawmakers for a nearly $500,000 boost in next year’s budget to fund public defender salaries. Scalia said the situation is so bad that several public defender offices had to stop taking new cases because they were so overwhelmed. Hundreds of cases are being assigned to private counsel.

“The agency is in crisis,” she told state lawmakers earlier this year. She said the 24% resignation rate for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2018, is the highest her agency has seen since its creation in 1982.

Currently, Kansas public defenders with 10 or fewer years of experience make a maximum of $59,850 a year. When they reach 20 years of experience, they make $68,665. Chief defenders make $78,750. Scalia wants to make the state’s pay more similar to Missouri’s. Although public defenders there start at $46,992, their salaries increase to more than $70,000 after a few years of experience.

Private attorneys, meanwhile, can charge hundreds of dollars an hour.

Blair Loving, a former public defender now in private practice, said there isn’t much reason for defenders to stay after the early stages of their career.

“That kind of money is perfect for a brand new attorney with no wife and no kids and no mortgage,” he said. “They’ve got to fix their budget so that it incentivizes people with experience, not just brand-new law students.”

Related story

Sept. 28, 2015 — Attorneys seek pay raise for indigent defense work; situation could reach ‘crisis’ level in Douglas County

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