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Public defenders, county leaders clash over how to fund equal pay

Fairfax County Chief Public Defender Dawn Butorac at a budget hearing on April 14, 2022 (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County’s upcoming budget won’t fully resolve funding disparities between public defenders and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Instead, county leaders said they’ll continue working with General Assembly representatives to fix funding disparities, where Fairfax County public defenders say they’re underfunded and underpaid.

“I want to acknowledge the request that we received from that office, and I do recognize the ongoing struggle to create parity between their office and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office,” Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said.

The Board of Supervisors agreed on Tuesday (April 26) to reduce Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office contribution of around $804,000 and funding to add six positions there, changing its local spending of its advertised budget for prosecutors.

Chief public defender Dawn Butorac was unimpressed by the commitment.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Board continues to gloss over how important we are to the criminal legal system in Fairfax,” she told FFXnow by email. “Their budget decisions demonstrate that the poor and marginalized citizens in this community are not a priority.”

She said the board told her at the budget meeting that they’ve been trying to resolve the pay issues through the General Assembly.

“Many other jurisdictions in Virginia supplement public defender salaries and do so at a rate higher than the 15% supplement in Fairfax,” Butorac wrote. “Several, in fact, have pay parity or are working towards that goal.”

Butorac wanted around $825,000 for her office, up from its current allocation of $525,000. The office also receives $3.9 million in funding from the state.

Last year, the county extended 15% salary supplements for staff in the public defender’s office.

“We must find more sustainable pathways on working with the state to fund the public defender’s office,” Lusk said, noting he’s committed to working with the rest of the board, Butorac, and state legislators on the matter.

Lusk, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee, said he would participate if necessary in a hearing or meeting in Richmond on the issue.

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