District attorneys approve retention stipends for experienced lawyers

OKLAHOMA CITY — The District Attorneys Council on Thursday approved a plan to pay experienced attorneys a retention bonus.

“We pointed out to the Legislature that we have been losing mid-level prosecutors with experience at an astounding rate to the US Attorney’s office and Indian tribes,” said Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. “We could not match their salaries they were offering those experienced prosecutors.”

Lawmakers appropriated about $2.2 million for the stipends.

Matt Ballard, chairman of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, said US Attorneys offices in the state are adding 98 prosecutors, which is “unprecedented.”

The Eastern District is adding 60, which will vault it to one of the larger offices in the nation, Ballard said.

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“We have never seen anything like this,” Ballard said.

He said there are only 241 state prosecutors in Oklahoma.

Kunzweiler plans to give the stipends out after approval from the State Auditor and Inspector’s office.

The stipends will be $4,000 in the first year and $4,000 the second year for prosecutors with three or more years experience, he said.

He said the funds will incentivize mid-level prosecutors to stay working in the state system.

Kunzweiler said it will affect about 30 attorneys this year in his office and 36 next year.

“There are law enforcement agencies and prosecution offices outside of the state in states that border us as well as federal prosecution offices and Indian tribes that are simply paying well beyond what we have been able to pay,” Kunzweiler said. “And so it creates a crisis for Oklahoma citizens.

“You have to have experience to prosecute major crimes.”

Ballard said the DAC had asked for funds to bring salaries up to a competitive range, but the stipend program was what was agreed a compromise.

“We appreciate the Legislature very much giving us what they did,” he said. “This is still a Band-Aid to a problem.”

Ballard, district attorney for Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties, said it will impact 11 posts in his office.

During the first year, the stipend would apply to 195 prosecutors, said Kathryn Brewer, DAC executive coordinator. It would apply to 222 the second year, she said.

The stipends do not apply to lawyers working in the Attorney General’s office, according to a spokesman.

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