This is Part II of a two-part series about the DA’s Office. Part I, which ran last Friday, took a look at some of the challenges the office faces as it has struggled to retain and attract attorneys, who’ve left for higher paying opportunities.
SULLIVAN COUNTY –– As a manager and mentor, District Attorney Meagan Galligan explained that she tries to encourage her assistant district attorneys (ADAs) to further their careers in a way that is best for them, but unfortunately, that often means supporting them in their decision to move on to higher paying jobs and other opportunities.
Galligan said she’s currently trying to stem that tide by making their salaries competitive, at least with neighboring regions in government service.
An understaffed DA’s office isn’t just a challenge for Galligan, but also for local law enforcement.
Village of Liberty Police Chief Steven D’Agata said the need to have a fully functioning, professional, fully staffed District Attorney’s Office is absolutely crucial to public safety both in the Village of Liberty and the entire County of Sullivan.
“The show Law and Order depicts it pretty well,” said D’Agata. “We’re the first half hour [and] they’re the second half hour. For all the arrests that we can make, if they can’t be effectively prosecuted, [they are] for naught. We absolutely need them to be functioning at full capacity so that the residents of the Village of Liberty and Sullivan County are safe and secure.”
Sheriff Mike Schiff told the Democrat that the DA’s office is an integral part of law enforcement in Sullivan County.
“I know that DA Galligan is working very closely with her partners in the County Legislature, and I’m sure they will come together for a positive resolution to resolve her issues of manpower and salaries,” said Schiff. “She has my full support.”
Progress on a resolution
Legislative Chairman Rob Doherty told the Democrat that he and Galligan recently had a negotiating session lasting close to three hours, with both sides looking at counties similar in size and crime to Sullivan, such as Cattaraugus, as well as counties in the region that they have to compete with for employees, like Orange.
The result is a resolution on the table this Thursday at the legislature’s Human Resources Committee meeting that would not only increase salaries, but also change the setup of the office.
Doherty noted that in the current system, which he believes is archaic, once an ADA is hired at the current rate and gains experience, the DA would have to keep going back and asking for raises for that position.
The proposed resolution would create a two-tier system for the office’s eight ADAs.
Tier 2 would be the less experienced ADAs, and Tier 1 would be the ones with the most experience, handling the more serious criminal cases.
Doherty explained that the resolution would raise the starting salary for an ADA in Tier 2 by approximately 14 percent to $63,500. They’d also receive a two percent raise annually, and after seven years, would be making $72,000 and change. All raises within the system are pending a positive review.
According to Doherty, the four slots in Tier 1 would be making (from the top person down) $108,600, $102,000 and there’s two $90,000 slots.
Prosecutors hired from outside the office would also fit into the new system.
For example, if someone with four years of experience was hired, they’d be making what an ADA in Tier 2 with four years of experience makes, and wouldn’t have to fit into a particular slot.
Doherty believes the new system would build more continuity and allow people to grow in the DA’s Office, as well as make it easier to manage.
In addition to the eight ADAs, Doherty said they’re looking at getting the office other positions to help with non-court work, etc.
Doherty said that Galligan has come to the legislature in the past asking for raises for specific employees, and that they’ve given it to her.
“We take her office very seriously and that’s why I was more than willing to have this conversation with her too,” said Doherty. “It wasn’t just about giving raises, it wasn’t just throwing money at a problem. It was to restructure the whole office.”
While noting that some moments during the negotiating session were contentious, Doherty said that’s business, and he believes both sides left happy.
“I view this as a very positive step for the DA’s Office,” said Doherty.
In addition to talks with Doherty, Galligan also met with both legislative caucuses.
Majority Leader and Legislator Alan Sorensen told the Democrat that he believes the discussions have been amicable with the goal of trying to reach a solution that addresses Galligan’s concerns.
Minority Leader and Legislator Ira Steingart noted that Galligan is working under difficult conditions with some of the changes in state law –– body cams, bail reform, etc. –– and the workload has increased. Steingart said that while the legislature wants to be financially prudent, he believes they have to do something in order for her to attract attorneys. He added that since Galligan is under budget, there’s no reason the legislature shouldn’t implement these raises immediately.
Galligan believes legislators have been receptive to her concerns, and that significant progress is being made.
“I am very much looking forward to coming back to full staff, and taking some of the significant pressures off of my ADAs, who currently really have stepped up to the plate and are covering substantially more cases than they really ought to,” she said.
Galligan added that she’s committed to conservative fiscal stewardship of the office.
“I’m not looking to put the taxpayer out here,” she said. “I think that’s why it’s important to note that the DA’s office budget, as a whole, accounts for less than one penny of every tax dollar in Sullivan County. I do recognize that Sullivan County is not in the best financial position. But I also recognize this significant public safety risk that we run when we underpay and understaff a district attorney’s office.”