DA, reporter misrepresent public defender salaries

As Colorado state public defender, I need to respond to the completely false information reported in the Nov. 14 edition of your paper.

Citing a letter submitted by District Attorney Jeff Cheney to the Pitkin County commissioners, it was reported that “beginning state public defenders start at more than $115,000 a year, while beginning prosecutors begin at between $65,000 and $85,000.”

That is inaccurate. The starting salary for entry-level state public defenders is $57,276, clearly less than “beginning” prosecutors in the 9th Judicial District. As of November 2017, there are currently four entry-level attorneys in the public defender office (out of a total of six attorneys) serving the 9th Judicial District, with an average salary of $63,540 and an average 2.6 years of experience.

A review of District Attorney Cheney’s letter to the county commissioners shows that Aspen Times reporter Jason Auslander did somewhat misquote the DA. Cheney actually wrote that “the average base annual salary for a public defender in our state is $115,466.” That is also inaccurate. Sixty percent of the state public defenders make an average salary of approximately $61,500 per year. If all lawyers of all experience levels are included, the average salary is approximately $75,000 per year.

Significant information regarding all state public defender office salaries and staffing has been provided to the Colorado District Attorneys Council, of which DA Cheney is a member. DA Cheney appears to have deliberately ignored the facts and chosen instead to fabricate his own version of the facts. I certainly hope this dishonest behavior is not reflective of how he prosecutes persons charged with crimes in Pitkin County.

Please note: This office takes no position on DA Cheney’s request for a raise for his lawyers. All prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers should be adequately paid for their (often tireless) work. All we ask is that you be provided with accurate information concerning our agency.

Douglas K. Wilson

Colorado state public defender