Prosecution and Defense attorneys’ debt forgiveness program - a smart investment

Wilson said she not only may lose prosecutors who specialize in cases involving driving under the influence and criminal domestic violence, but she also may have a hard time avoiding laying off some of the 10 staffers who work with victims of crime in Berkeley and Charleston counties.

"That's an area that's near and dear to all of us because it directly affects people who already have been wronged," Wilson said. "For us to not be able to give them the quality of service that we have in the past would be, in my view, victimizing them again."

If they think that's bad, there's a small, low-cost program that, if eliminated, may ensure that some of those prosecutors won't be there long enough to get downsized. Two years ago, a program, which was one of 228 to survive the Governor's veto pen, put up $225,000 to forgive student loan debt for those who work either in solictors or public defenders offices.

This program would pay up to $40,000, at up to $5,000 a year, in student loans for those attorneys who have been employed for at least three continuous years in one of five offices:

  • S.C. Attorney General's Office
  • S.C. Commission on Prosecution Coordination
  • S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense
  • Any Circuit Solicitor's Office
  • Any County or Circuit Public Defender's Office
In a Blogland interview, Kevin Brackett, the 16th Circuit Solicitor, pointed out "the amount spent in a year was less than some death penalty trials cost". He was concerned that many law school graduates, facing hundreds of dollars a month in student loan payments, would instead opt to go into private practice. To help illustrate the point, he discussed his early days in the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office, right after graduation, where he had to live in a low-rent apartment in Rock Hill, with a roommate, to be able to afford repaying his debt on an entry-level prosecutor's salary.

Attorney General Henry McMaster defended the program, as a

Wonderful idea to offer an incentive for those who choose to serve and continue serving our state as criminal prosecutors or public defenders. It's my hope the program will flourish, even in these trying economic times.

This is a program which the Legislature should consider funding. It's a small investment that will go a long way to keep our courts rolling.

15 Response to "Prosecution and Defense attorneys’ debt forgiveness program - a smart investment"

  1. Anonymous 10/3/09 22:13
    Thank you, Earl. It is refreshing to read something newsworthy and informative on your blog. Hopefully your coverage of this issue will be helpful to the hardworking people who dedicate their service to South Carolina.
  2. Earl Capps 10/3/09 22:48
    Wait a minute - are you trying to say most of what I publish is useless junk?!?

    Gee, thanks ... can't win for trying around this state. :)
  3. Anonymous 10/3/09 23:10
    Just say, thank you!
  4. Earl Capps 11/3/09 00:07
    Good point ... hey 2213 - I do appreciate the praise. I'll try not to disappoint in future.
  5. Waldo 11/3/09 00:49
    Good report, but it'd be a lot more impressive program if it included teachers, social workers and others whose job it is to divert people from getting into the justice system in the first place. South Carolina has a real fetish for punishment but little evident interest in steering people away from jail in the first place.
  6. Anonymous 11/3/09 01:43
    Teachers have a loan payback program as well.
  7. Anonymous 11/3/09 08:29
    The average law student graduates with a debt of around $75,000. Many of them would like to stay in public service as a prosecutor or public defender but just cannot afford to. Once they get experience they head out to private practice. If you were a victim or defendant you would want someone helping you who had some experience, not some kid fresh out of law school. This program helps make that happen. I know people who have stayed in public service on account of this money being there to supplement their salary. I hope they can fund it this year. It really isn't much...
  8. Anonymous 11/3/09 09:17
    It's budget time - let's hope legislators are reading this and realizing how important this program can be in keeping the court dockets moving.
  9. Anonymous 11/3/09 09:21
    Earl, Thank you for pointing out a very useful program for prosecutors and public defenders throughout the State. So many of us really have a heart for prosecution but some can be forced into private practice by student loan debt. Also, consolidating student loans is becoming more difficult these days, which can cause student loan payments to be higher than ever before. This program is very much needed for our State to retain great prosecutors and public defenders in our county offices and avoid the inevitable and constant turnover that will result if this program is not funded. The work done by prosecutors and public defenders benefits everyone in our State and it's in our best interest to keep the best attorneys in those positions.
  10. Anonymous 11/3/09 09:22
    Thank you for commenting on this issue even as legislators quietly cut more funding at various points in the South Carolina justice system that was already poorly funded relative to other states before this economic crisis began. When does it end for legislators? When there is no more funding for professionals to advocate for victims? When there is no more funding for judges to hear cases that will languish on dockets awaiting disposition? When there are fewer young attorneys following their hearts into South Carolina Solicitors' and Public Defenders' Offices because skyrocketing tuitions at public and private colleges forced them to borrow student loans they could never repay with the salaries currently offered for those public service jobs? When will fiscal conservatism give way to prioritizing public safety and trust in our justice system? Looks like the ink from Gov. Sanford's original veto of this program is finally bleeding through.
  11. Eli 11/3/09 09:28
    I am a prosecutor, and over the past 12 years I have watched the number and quality of prosecutor (solicitor) job applications decline drastically, because the job barely pays enough to live on, and if student loan debt is added it cannot be done. I know it is the same for the public defender offices. It means the whole state suffers.
    The law-abiding community suffers and the criminal defendant suffers. Does someone who has had their house burglarized and looted or been robbed at gunpoint want the inexperienced kid no one else wanted (but whose parents could pay the tuition and avoid loan debt)as their only hope for justice? And does the defendant who might have a valid defense want that sort of attorney? Loan forgiveness is a bargain for the taxpayer.
  12. Anonymous 11/3/09 09:36
    According to the American Bar Assocation, "[s]tudies show that most graduates of law school have a combined debt from undergraduate and graduate studies in excess of $80,000, or loan payments of more than $1,100 a month. Only those students with debt burdens half that size tend to enter public interest positions, where the median starting salary is $36,000, which does not include regular raises, health care, retirement savings or other such benefits. Not surprisingly, a recent study found that law school debt prevented 66% of student respondents from entering public interest positions. According to legal service providers, many new lawyers are unable remain in such positions for more than a couple of years, adversely affecting the professionalism and expertise their offices are able to deliver."
    If the South Carolina legislature eliminates or does not fund this debt forgiveness program, the citizens of this State affected by the criminal justice system (as either victims or defendants) will be less likely to have their needs represented by experienced professionals. There must be some assistance to these lawyers who choose to practice in these important areas of the public interest if we want to develop well-trained and experienced prosecutors and public defeders in our criminal justice system.
  13. Anonymous 11/3/09 09:45
    If you eliminate this program, it will force many qualified, dedicated, hard working public service attorneys into private practice, and the people of South Carolina as a whole will pay the price. This program is a nominal amount to pay for keeping experienced attorneys in such a vital role.
  14. Anonymous 11/3/09 09:56
    Cut legislator's salaries, not loan forgiveness programs. Suicide is the 5th highest cause of death among attorneys. If you want to make it rank higher than cut the loan forgiveness programs.
  15. Anonymous 11/3/09 10:18
    Earl, I know you are a RINO sellout to the education camp. I didn't know you were pimping yourself out to the trial attorneys as well?

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