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County attorney's pay raise upsetting to peers

October 08, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A recent pay raise given to the deputy county attorney has raised questions among some local prosecutors about pay equity and government accountability.

The Washington County Commissioners last month raised the salary of Deputy County Attorney John Martirano to $90,000 as an incentive for him to remain in his position instead of taking a job with Washington County Public Schools. At the end of June, Martirano was being paid $66,747.

"It's a huge slap in the face," Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Michelle Flores said after she learned about the pay raise two weeks ago.

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Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong, the county's top prosecutor, said this week that Martirano's pay raise prompted him to review the salaries of his staff, and that he was particularly concerned about the pay for the deputy state's attorney position, the No. 2 job in the prosecutor's office.

Strong said Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael, whom Strong appointed, received a cost-of-living increase and a raise related to his position change, which brought Michael's salary from $59,178 last year to the current $63,854.

At his new pay rate, Martirano makes from $26,132 to $45,272 more than any of the 11 full-time prosecutors in the State's Attorney's Office, except for Strong, who is paid $100,350 a year.

The lowest-paid, full-time prosecutor is paid $44,728 a year, according to information provided by the county.

The Office of the County Attorney, headed by County Attorney Richard Douglas, handles noncriminal legal issues facing county government. Martirano reports to Douglas, whose current salary is $97,900 a year.

With the exception of Strong's salary, which is set by the state, the county sets salaries for attorneys in both offices. All of the salaries, including Strong's, are paid by the county.

"I have reviewed the salaries because of recent events and do feel that (salaries) need to be looked at with an eye to making sure that everything is equitable. ... We hope to address them in the next budget cycle," Strong said Tuesday.

The State's Attorney's Office, headed by Strong, is the county's criminal prosecution office.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook this week defended Martirano's pay raise, but said the State's Attorney's Office likely is facing a common problem among county offices: Competition from increasingly higher salaries in Frederick County and eastward.

Snook said he was open to hearing the State's Attorney's Office's concerns.

Strong said another problem is "the difficulty in finding lawyers to come over South Mountain - quality lawyers."

Douglas was unavailable for further comment this week. Martirano was reached at his office Thursday.

"There's only two attorneys in this office. I'm not going to make any comment about what the State's Attorney's Office does. ... They do the work that they do, and we do the work that we do," Martirano said.

"I have the utmost respect for everything they do. I support them. I would hope that they support me," Martirano said.

Days after Martirano's salary increase was published two weeks ago, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion and other co-workers assailed the pay raise.

"This was a back-room deal (that) took into no consideration that there are other attorneys working for this county," Cirincion said.

Cirincion said that while the county attorney's office "farms out" work to outside legal offices, the State's Attorney's Office does not have that luxury.

"When you're referring litigation matters to outside counsel, then you have to question, what are we paying those people to do ... ?" Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Steven Kessell said.

According to information provided by Douglas, his office spent $148,115 on outside legal services in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003. In the fiscal year ending this past June, Douglas' office spent $192,211 on outside legal services. Since July 1, the office has spent $47,648.

Snook said he was not surprised by those numbers. He said the county attorney's office must handle several legal specialties - such as bill collections and labor issues - that the two county attorneys shouldn't have to do themselves.

Martirano also will be taking on day-to-day legal issues, including working out adequate public facilities ordinance agreements and liability issues related to the expansion of Hagerstown Regional Airport, Snook said.

Douglas will continue working on county ordinances and any litigation involving the county, Snook said.

Snook said it is difficult to say if the county attorney's office salaries can be compared to those in the state's attorney's office before hearing what the individual job responsibilities are.

"There's gonna have to be a lot of dialogue ... if there's gonna be substantial changes," Snook said.

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