Suthers blames low pay on high turnover
December 26, 2005
DENVER – Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is blaming low pay for high turnover in his office, saying he can’t compete with high-paying law firms and local governments that offer higher salaries.During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 51 lawyers left the 221-person legal staff. Meanwhile, his office had to deal with a legal fight over environmental damage at Rocky Flats, complicated calculations over tobacco-settlement funds and contract problems with state computer systems.”Our lawyer turnover rate has gotten too high,” Suthers recently told state lawmakers.”No one leaves the office because they don’t like the job,” said Suthers, a Republican appointed attorney general earlier this year by Gov. Bill Owens after Democrat Ken Salazar was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004.Suthers said lawyers have left to take jobs handling dog cases in Aurora and Broomfield, where they can make $12,000 more a year.The starting job in Suthers’ office as assistant attorney general pays an average $63,040 per year, compared with $70,414 for similar jobs in other government jobs along the Front Range.A deputy attorney general is paid an average $106,039 annually, or $20,798 less than their counterparts in other public-law offices.Suthers is asking the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, which sets state spending priorities, to approve another $1 million to give targeted raises to lawyers in his department.Don Quick, former chief deputy attorney general who left last year after he was elected Adams County district attorney, said the last year he worked for the state, the managers voted back their merit increases to be divided among the assistant attorney generals.Steve Cann, who worked as an assistant attorney general for more than eight years before quitting in February to join the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, said money wasn’t the reason he left. He said he left to become the Nature Conservancy’s water-rights attorney, a job that hadn’t been available in more than a decade. He said the new job in Boulder is also closer to home, so he can ride his bicycle to work.Cann’s annual salary also increased by about $10,000.”I don’t know if I know of anybody who doesn’t make more,” Cann said.