Ashley Moody 1

Ashley Moody wants higher state salaries for ‘top legal talent’

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office is requesting $11.2 million next year to boost the salaries and benefits of attorneys representing the state to help “recruit and retain high-quality legal talent.”

The issue was raised in the Department of Legal Affairs legislative budget requestwhich was released last month and modified on Tuesday.

The request says the office competes with local and federal offices as well as the private sector, and areas of law that require highly specialized expertise make it more difficult to recruit and retain talented attorneys in those fields.

“The (office of attorney general) represents the state of Florida in some of the most high-profile legal matters affecting the state,” the legislative budget request states.

“While the OAG offers a favorable work environment and an attractive benefits and retirement package, the attorney salaries of many in the OAG remain below market. In order to recruit and retain the highest quality lawyers, salary adjustments for OAG lawyers are necessary.”

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Lawmakers approved pay increases for the OAG in the current year, but the office continued to struggle to compete with other opportunities.

If approved, the additional funds would support an increase in base pay for all 454 full-time attorneys in the office, but also target raises and increased benefits in specialized areas, such as Medicaid fraud and tax enforcement.

The request says the office is struggling to recruit in those areas and has lost lawyers in its complex litigation and state programs sectors, which “defend against constitutional challenges to state laws and programs at the trial level, often on an expedited basis, requiring trial skills and civil rights litigation experience.”

The office also recently “lost several senior attorneys” in its Jacksonville office to that city’s law firms and the private sector.

It also saw losses of attorneys in the office of the Third District Court of Appeals, which covers Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and the Fourth DCA, which covers Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties covered, cited. agencies or local governments.

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To pay for the increase, the proposal would increase funding to help draw in more federal money, which would pay for 75% of the increase in the Medicaid fraud unit. Other funds would come from allowing the office to charge state agencies higher rates for legal services.

The state charges lower than market rates to the rest of the state government, the request states. It notes that the $99 to $119 hourly rates charged to state agencies are “significantly” below the median rate of $300 an hour, according to a 2018 survey conducted by The Florida Bar.

“Apart from a few solo practitioners, most outside counsel in the fields in which the OAG practices, such as administrative law, civil trial practice, tax law and employment litigation, charge significantly higher rates,” the request states. “A modest increase in OAG hourly rates to help offset the cost of the proposal would keep the OAG significantly below the median hourly rate charged by Florida attorneys.”

Lawmakers will review the request when they craft the budget during next year’s regular legislative session, which begins March 7.

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