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What Counties Pay Their Lawyers

By Megan Kinneyn | Jan. 2, 2007
News

Law Office Management

Jan. 2, 2007

What Counties Pay Their Lawyers

A survey of staff lawyers' compensation in the twelve most populous counties in the state. By Donna Horowitz

By Donna Horowitz
     
      A survey of the 12 most populous counties in the state.
      New law school graduates going to work for local governments will earn widely varied compensation in the twelve most populous counties of California, according to a recent survey by California Lawyer magazine.
      San Francisco is the most generous, offering a salary of $90,818 a year for new hires. The second and third most generous counties for beginning lawyers are also in Northern California. They are Santa Clara County, which pays attorneys $85,931 a year to join the county counsel's office, and Contra Costa County, which pays its new hires $76,356.
      On the low end, Fresno County pays $42,094 for entry-level counsel, a few thousand dollars less than Ventura County pays.
     
     
      Los Angeles county
      Population: 9,979,600
     
      275 county counsel
      $56,011 annual starting pay
      $84,967 minimum salary after five years
      $135,409 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      687 public defenders
      $56,011 annual starting pay
      $80,482 minimum salary after five years
      $135,409 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      969 district attorneys
      $56,011 annual starting pay
      $80,482 minimum salary after five years
      $179,606 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      Health benefits: Employees with less than five years of service receive at least $852 monthly to pay for health benefits. (For contributory pension-plan members, the amount is 14.5 percent of their monthly salary; for noncontributory pension-plan members, the amount is 17 percent.) Employees can choose among HMO and PPO plans. Health allowances in excess of premiums are added to paychecks.
     
      Pension benefits: Current employees can choose between two defined-benefit plans; one is contributory, and one is not. Employees can also choose 401(k) or 457 supplemental plans.
     
      Orange county
      Population: 2,978,800
     
      62 county counsel
      $62,566 annual starting pay
      $83,762 minimum salary after five years
      $145,184 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Orange County Attorneys Association
     
      206 public defenders
      $62,566 annual starting pay
      $83,762 minimum salary after five years
      $145,184 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Orange County Attorneys Association
     
      259 district attorneys
      $62,566 annual starting pay
      $83,762 minimum salary after five years
      $145,184 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Orange County Attorneys Association
     
      Health benefits: The county offers two HMO plans, with $15 co-pays for office visits, and two PPO plans, with office visits costing 20 percent of the bill.
     
      Pension benefits: At age 55 an employee is eligible for 2.7 percent of salary for every year of service, based on average monthly salary for the three highest-paid years.
     
      San Diego county
      Population: 2,961,600
     
      67 county counsel
      $52,561 annual starting pay
      $88,816 minimum salary after five years
      $144,976 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Deputy County Counsel Association
     
      205 public defenders
      $54,912 annual starting pay
      $92,830 minimum salary after five years
      $144,310 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Public Defender Association
     
      304 district attorneys
      $53,060 annual starting pay
      $89,668 minimum salary after five years
      $139,422 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Deputy District Attorneys Association
     
      Health benefits: The county contributes between 75 percent and 95 percent of premiums, depending on whether an employee has dependents. The county offers an HMO with a $15 co-pay ($5 for pediatric visits) and a PPO/POS (point of service) plan with a $15 co-pay for office visits.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit plans. At age 50, with ten years of service, an employee is eligible for 2 percent for each year of service, based on the highest annual salary. At age 55 the rate increases to 2.5 percent; at age 60 the rate goes up to 3 percent.
     
      San Bernardino county
      Population: 1,833,000
     
      70 county counsel
      $58,427 annual starting pay
      $74,713 minimum salary after five years
      $138,867 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      125 public defenders
      $61,085 annual starting pay
      $95,513 minimum salary after five years
      $128,847 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association
     
      224 district attorneys
      $64,418 annual starting pay
      $110,656 minimum salary after five years
      $128,357 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association
     
      Health benefits: The county provides $296.62 a month in taxable income or subsidies to the carrier for medical coverage for an employee and his or her dependents. The county offers two HMO plans, with $10 co-pays, and a PPO with office-visit co-pays of 20 percent of the cost. In addition, county counsel attorneys receive vision and mental-health coverage for themselves and their families, plus free physicals and a spa membership.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit plans. At age 50, with ten years of service, employees are eligible for 15 percent of their highest annual pay. At age 62, with ten years of service, employees are eligible for 28 percent of their highest annual pay. In addition, county counsel attorneys have a 401(k) plan, with county-match contributions up to 8 percent of salary.
     
      Santa Clara county
      Population: 1,729,900
     
      57 county counsel
      $85,931 annual starting pay
      $146,347 minimum salary after five years
      $182,144 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: County Counsel Attorneys Association
     
      102 public defenders
      $90,349 annual starting pay
      $149,414 minimum salary after five years
      $185,969 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Government Attorneys Association
     
      178 district attorneys
      $90,349 annual starting pay
      $149,414 minimum salary after five years
      $185,969 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Government Attorneys Association
     
      Health benefits: The county pays all premiums for an employee and his or her family for two of three HMO plans. The county offers care in its own hospital system with no co-pays, $5 co-pays at two HMOs, and a PPO with $10 co-pays.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- or lifetime-benefit plan. At age 55 an employee is eligible for 2 percent for each year of service, based on the highest salary for twelve months. The rate increases to 2.5 percent in December 2007.
     
      Riverside county
      Population: 1,705,500
     
      40 county counsel
      $59,449 annual starting pay
      $84,671 minimum salary after five years
      $137,823 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      104 public defenders
      $59,449 annual starting pay
      $84,671 minimum salary after five years
      $137,823 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      181 district attorneys
      $59,449 annual starting pay
      $84,671 minimum salary after five years
      $137,823 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Deputy district attorneys Association
     
      Health benefits: The county offers a flex-benefit allowance of $510 a month toward health and dental coverage ($477.90 for district attorneys), and employees can choose among HMO and PPO plans or get care at the county public hospital system.
     
      Pension benefits: The county pays employees' costs for inclusion in the state retirement system. At age 60 employees who retire are eligible for 3 percent of their pay for every year of service.
     
      Alameda county
      Population: 1,496,200
     
      30 county counsel
      $66,718 annual starting pay
      N/A minimum salary after five years
      $143,952 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: County Counsel Association Local 21
     
      137 public defenders
      $66,718 annual starting pay
      N/A minimum salary after five years
      $143,952 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Public Defenders Association Local 21
     
      200 district attorneys
      $66,718 annual starting pay
      N/A minimum salary after five years
      $143,952 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      Health benefits: The county contributes $329 per month per employee (up to $929.88 per month for a family), with $15 co-pays.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined-benefit plan. Tier 1: At age 57 employees are eligible for 2 percent for each year of service, based on the highest twelve months of pay. Tier 2: At age 62 employees are eligible for 2 percent for each year of service, based on the average of the three highest-paid years.
     
      Sacramento county
      Population: 1,309,600
     
      46 county counsel
      $53,891 annual starting pay
      $72,224 minimum salary after five years
      $106,800 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Sacramento County Attorneys' Assoc.
     
      85 public defenders
      $53,891 annual starting pay
      $72,224 minimum salary after five years
      $106,800 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Sacramento County Attorneys' Assoc.
     
      133 district attorneys
      $53,891 annual starting pay
      $72,224 minimum salary after five years
      $106,800 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Sacramento County Attorneys' Assoc.
     
      Health benefits: The county contributes $743 a month toward medical coverage for an employee and dependents; employees can choose among HMO, PPO, and POS (point of service) coverage with $15 co-pays.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit retirement plans. At age 50, with at least ten years of service, employees are eligible to receive 1.474 percent for each year of service based on the highest average monthly salary for three years. At age 551/2 the rate increases to 2 percent; at age 62 the rate increases to 2.611 percent.
     
      Contra Costa county
      Population: 994,900
     
      32 county counsel
      $76,356 annual starting pay
      $84,287 minimum salary after five years
      $134,876 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Public Employees Union Local 1
     
      91 public defenders
      $60,972** annual starting pay
      $106,366 minimum salary after five years
      $128,339 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
      **New lawyers in the Contra Costa public defender's office often start in temporary positions lasting up to two years, with starting pay of $59,196.
     
      96 district attorneys
      $68,813 annual starting pay
      $97,800 minimum salary after five years
      $122,139 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      Health benefits: The county offers four HMO plans with co-pays for office visits ranging from no charge to $5, and one PPO plan with a $10 co-pay for office visits.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit plans. At age 55, for every year of service, an employee is eligible for 2 percent of the average of the highest twelve consecutive months of pay. The employee must have at least ten years of service.
     
      Fresno county
      Population: 841,460
     
      24 county counsel
      $42,094 annual starting pay
      $51,168 minimum salary after five years
      $94,146 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      111 public defenders
      $42,744 annual starting pay
      $51,948 minimum salary after five years
      $93,360 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Public Defenders Association Unit 31
     
      114 district attorneys
      $42,744 annual starting pay
      $51,948 minimum salary after five years
      $93,360 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Fresno County Prosecutors Association Unit 30
     
      Health benefits: The county contributes $208.06 every two weeks to pay for any of three plans. Co-pays range from $15 to $35, depending on the plan.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit plans apply after ten years of service. Tier 1: At age 50 an employee is eligible for 1.864 percent of salary for each year of service, based on highest consecutive pay for one year; at age 55 the rate increases to 2.5 percent; over age 60 the rate increases to 3.273 percent. Tier 2: At age 55 an employee is eligible for 2 percent for each year of service for the highest consecutive pay for one year.
     
      San Francisco county
      Population: 791,600
     
      180 county counsel
      $90,818 annual starting pay
      $113,100 minimum salary after five years
      $159,120 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Municipal Attorneys Association
     
      90 public defenders
      $90,818 annual starting pay
      $105,144 minimum salary after five years
      $159,120 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Municipal Attorneys Association
     
      115 district attorneys
      $90,818 annual starting pay
      $113,100 minimum salary after five years
      $159,120 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Municipal Attorneys Association
     
      Health benefits: Employees can choose among three HMO plans with $10 co-pays and one PPO plan with co-pays of 15 percent of the cost of an office visit.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit plans are offered, based on the higher of two formulas. Under one plan, employees can retire at age 50 with 20 years of service, or at age 60 with at least 10 years of service. Under the vesting-plan option, employees can retire after age 50 with at least 5 years of service.
     
      Ventura county
      Population: 791,300
     
      22 county counsel
      $46,444 annual starting pay
      $72,795 minimum salary after five years
      $135,811 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: None
     
      51 public defenders
      $57,996 annual starting pay
      $96,322 minimum salary after five years
      $133,497 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Criminal Justice Attorneys Association of Ventura County
     
      89 district attorneys
      $57,996 annual starting pay
      $96,322 minimum salary after five years
      $133,497 top pay for nonmanagement
      Union representation: Criminal Justice Attorneys Association of Ventura County
     
      Health benefits: The county contributes $248 every two weeks to purchase health coverage for employees and their dependents. Employees can chose among HMO plans with co-pays of $10 or $30, a PPO with no co-pay, or the county's own health care system.
     
      Pension benefits: Defined- and lifetime-benefit plans. At age 62 employees are eligible for 2 percent of salary for each year of service based on final compensation. They must be at least 50, with ten years of service.
     
      Compensation information obtained in mid-2006. Population information source: California State Association of Counties figures for 2004.
     
     
      Donna Horowitz (donna.horowitz@comcast.net) is a Northern California?based freelance writer.
     
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Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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