Amy Menzel works two jobs: She is an assistant district attorney prosecuting domestic violence cases in Outagamie County, Wi., and, to make ends meet, waiting tables at a restaurant. She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Hour for hour, dollar for dollar, I make more money as a waitress.” Menzel graduated from Marquette Law School in 2006 with $125,000 in student loans and was hired as a prosecutor last year, making $48,000 a year. At 27, she is questioning whether she can afford to make a career of prosecuting.
Frustrated by stagnant pay and burgeoning workloads, assistant state prosecutors are quitting in droves. Cuts in state spending, combined with disappearing federal grants, have forced layoffs – with more expected to come. Some 30 prosecutors have left the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office just since Jan. 1, 2007. Between 2001 and 2007, 246 assistant district attorneys quit state service. That is a turnover of nearly 75 percent of the state’s 330 assistant prosecutors. At one time, a stint in the district attorney’s office was considered training for ambitious trial lawyers looking to move on to a different job. That changed in the late 1980s as prosecutors’ jobs grew increasingly complex. Milwaukee chief prosecutor John Chisholm said he has never seen anything like the current job churn, which he said could threaten 20 years of gains and a variety of programs. “I would hate to see it all collapse,” he said. “That is what we are facing.”