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Richmond Public Defenders Launch Campaign For Better Pay

Public defenders launch campaign for pay parity.
Ashley Shapiro, Senior Assistant Public Defender is asking Richmond to join cities like Fairfax, Alexandria and Charlottesville in supplementing the state salary of public defenders.

As Mayor Levar Stoney starts working on next year’s budget, the Richmond Public Defender’s Office is asking for a raise. Prosecutors in the city make about 50% more than public defenders. Yet attorneys in the public defender’s office say their work is just as essential to keeping the city safe. 

Public defenders represent people who can’t afford an attorney, while commonwealth’s attorneys prosecute individuals on behalf of the city. Both are state employees, but many cities in Virginia supplement their paychecks. 

Richmond supplements prosecutor pay, but not for public defenders. Right now, an administrative assistant in the commonwealth attorney’s office makes more than nearly all of the 29 attorneys in the public defender’s office.  

Ashley Shapiro, Senior Assistant Public Defender in Richmond, said this has led to high turnover. 

“We don’t have as many people with extensive experience because we can’t keep them. People leave when they try to start a family, to buy a home,” she said. “They just can’t do that on our salaries.”

This year, Shapiro said public defenders are asking for roughly $1 million from the city for salary supplements. 

Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney, said in a statement that Stoney believes they should be paid more competitively. 

 “The public defenders approached us last year rather late in the budget process,” Nolan said. “We met and heard their concerns, and we look forward to continuing discussions with them to address their concerns in the coming weeks as the upcoming budget cycle gets underway.”

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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