Rural county prosecutors endure part-time status, part-time pay

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

GRANT CITY, Mo. -- Some things rarely change in many of Missouri's smaller counties, such as prosecutors' part-time status and pay. But caseloads have risen dramatically, and so has the difficulty in finding lawyers willing to serve.

In northwest Missouri's Worth and Caldwell counties, no one has filed to run for prosecutor in November's elections. One possible response is for the counties to contract the work.

David Parman, earning $24,036 a year as Worth County prosecutor, has decided not to seek re-election.

"Twelve years ago, when I started this job, it was a pretty nice little part-time job," Parman said. "It's not any more. It takes a lot more time and effort. I could double my money in private practice."

His felony cases have quadrupled, and what used to take 12 to 15 hours a week now requires at least 25, he said. More than two-thirds of the cases involve alcohol, drugs or both.

"It's just me and an office assistant," he said. "Some counties have municipal courts to take cases. Here in Worth County, there's only me. Everything comes to me."

Pay is part of the issue, although some part-timers make more than others. In Livingston County, prosecutor Doug Roberts earns $46,000 -- far more than Parman, but still less than half the state-mandated $96,000 salary for full-time prosecutors.

Many are also concerned about doing high-quality work while also keeping up with their private law practices.

Budget, pay lacking

Roberts said he spends 30 hours a week on his duties as prosecutor, a position he has held for 20 years.

"I think it should be full-time," he said. "I could keep up with criminal law and wouldn't have to know domestic law. I could know my specialty. I'm running one more time. I don't know after that."

Parman's frustration also stems from an annual budget that leaves no money for expert witnesses, no money for special tests, no money for trial extras.

"More often than not, we go without," Parman said.

"The public defender's office has a $28 million annual budget. They're probably better equipped and supplied than the attorney general's office," he added. "I'm prosecuting state law. If the state's going to foot the bill for public defenders, they should foot the bill for prosecuting attorneys."

Rick Turner, Harrison County's acting prosecutor since January 1999, hopes to ask voters if his job should be made a full-time position. He spends more than 50 hours each week as prosecutor, making $41,000, and said his caseload last year included 150 felonies and 360 misdemeanors plus traffic cases.

County residents have been asked to sign petitions to put the question of a full-time prosecutor on the August ballot.

"It's really hard to run this office as it needs to be," Turner said. "It'd be about the same hours, but I could focus on just this. I'd save time driving back and forth to my practice, and I wouldn't be taking private-practice phone calls. That takes up a lot of time during the day."

But many small counties can't afford that $96,000 full-time salary.

"As a practical matter, I think the county commissioners would campaign against it being full time," Roberts said. "If you're already getting all the milk from the cow, and you don't want the meat, why pay for the whole animal?"

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