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Scott County Attorney's Office says they are struggling to fill open assistant attorney positions
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Scott County Attorney's Office says they are struggling to fill open assistant attorney positions

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The Scott County Attorney's Office is understaffed and struggling to fill open positions, according to County Attorney Mike Walton. 

Walton sent a request to the Scott County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, Nov. 17, asking to change an open position for an assistant county attorney to a senior attorney position, in order to increase the starting salary and attract more applicants. The request will be discussed Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Walton stated in the request that two assistant attorney positions have been advertised for nearly 60 days, and although the positions require an Iowa license — and experience with Iowa law is preferred — the attorney's office expanded the search nationwide. Even with the expanded search area, there have been only eight candidates, none of whom was an experienced prosecutor and most of whom weren't even trial attorneys. Three candidates were interviewed, but none will result in a hire.

"We are understaffed. Pretty drastically understaffed," Walton said. 

According to a June 2020 report from the Vera Causa Group, which was asked by Scott County in December 2019 to investigate the workload of the attorney's office, the county would need to hire 11 more attorneys over the next three years (2020 through 2022) in order to match the staffing levels at other Iowa County Attorney's Offices. 

"It is impressive that the office has not had a major catastrophe as a result of being stretched too thin, but such an outcome is inevitable if staffing levels do not change, especially if caseloads continue to rise," the Vera Causa report states.

The county has been working on addressing this and other concerns raised in the report. The two positions were created as a part of that process.

The assistant county attorney positions offer a starting pay of $71,000 to $83,000 per year. Changing one to a senior county attorney position would increase the starting pay by an estimated $16,000 per year, though that difference could vary based on experience of the applicant, Walton said.

"We recently lost a new attorney to Polk County where the salary was $10,000 higher for an entry-level position. I need qualified attorneys to handle the approximately 1,000 open felony cases. The shortage of assistant attorneys and large caseload is creating conditions where I fear the loss of current employees, exasperating an already difficult situation," Walton stated in the request to the Board of Supervisors. 

Walton said the attorneys who currently worked in the office were staying on top of the caseload, but they needed the help that additional staff would provide. Many felony cases got backed up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Walton said the attorney's office is still recovering from that backlog.

"It's a huge caseload. (The attorneys) are doing a great job keeping up."

In addition to upgrading the open attorney position, Walton has asked to open a new position for a digital evidence specialist, who would take some of the work off the attorneys' plates by providing technical support and helping organize and maintain any digital evidence needed for cases. 

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