Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $91,981)
PROBLEM: The average student loan debt incurred by law students is $100,000 - $150,000, with higher amounts not being uncommon. The salaries that can be paid to new prosecutors and public defenders make it very difficult for young lawyers to meet such a debt burden and still enjoy even a modest home and standard of living. Accordingly, young lawyers whose preference would be to work as public defenders or prosecutors are often forced by financial restraints to seek employment in the higher paying private sector. This frequently results in lawyers leaving prosecution and defender offices at about the time the attorney has enough training and experience to be of real value to the office.
GOALS/OBJECTIVES: (1) To be able to provide law school loan repayment assistance to the widest number of prosecutors and public defenders in accordance with grant guidelines. (2) Ensure all eligible prosecutors and public defenders are aware of this benefit and submit applications. (3) Through the awarding of grant funds, help to keep prosecutors and public defenders employed in the public sector.
PROJECT STRATEGY: Using John R Justice funds, payments will pass through UPC and be made directly to the financial institutions holding student loans that are owed by Utah public defenders and prosecutors, thereby reducing the outstanding balance and, hopefully, the monthly payment.
SIGNIFICANT PARTNERSHIPS: In addition to all prosecutor offices, the Utah Prosecution Council works with the qualifying public defender offices in the state to ensure that all eligible public defenders are aware of this program. Two prosecutors and two public defenders sit on the application review committee. We also work closely with the State Board of Education. One of their senior officials also sits on the application review committee.
OUTCOMES/MAJOR DELIVERABLES: The following events have had a direct impact on this program in Utah. (1) With the exception of FY22, the average grant amount awarded to Utah has been in the mid-$30,000 range. (2) There are 29 county attorney offices, at least 15 cities that have dedicated prosecutors and the Office of the Utah Attorney General. There are 5 public defender offices that meet the grant definition. (3) Depending on how many applicants qualify for an award, the actual amount received can sometimes be small. Consequently, applicants do not apply in subsequent years for an award believing the small amount is not worth the time and effort to complete an application. (4) With private law firms able to pay higher salaries, prosecutor and public defenders have left government practice and it is increasingly difficult to hire and retain new prosecutors and public defenders.
Number of Prosecutors 225 385
Number of Public Defenders 100 167
Number of Federal Defenders 14 21