Attorney shortage in Indiana affecting local public defender’s office


BROWNSTOWN — During the Jackson County Council meeting Wednesday morning at the courthouse, Jackson County Chief Public Defender Alan Marshall spoke about his struggle to fill attorney positions in his office. The most recents vacancies are the result of one employee taking an out-of-state job offer with a higher-paying salary and another becoming ill.

On April 5, the Indiana Supreme Court announced an order issued by Chief Loretta Rush to establish a commission on Indiana’s legal future. As stated in the order, “virtually all 92 Hoosier counties have fewer lawyers per capita than the national average, and the gap is especially acute in Indiana’s rural and most socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, as well as in the public service sector. This shortage threatens the institution of the legal profession, public trust in the courts, the rule of law and the civic health of our communities.”

Marshall spoke about the issue of the ongoing attorney shortage in rural Indiana during the council’s March meeting. At that time, he said there are several surrounding counties in the area struggling to fill openings.

He said there was a vacancy in Jackson County for a attorney that he has struggled to fill, and the Harrison County public defender’s office has had a job posting listed for a deputy prosecutor since December 2023. The person who was supposed to fill the Harrison County position ended up staying in Clark County because their salary was increased from $80,000 to more than $100,000.

Also, in Monroe County the pay scale has increased substantially; however, several positions remain unfilled there, Marshall said.

During that meeting, Marshall also proposed re-appropriating funds for a pay increase for the vacant county attorney position. He said there is an individual who has been a public defender for 20 years who is interested in the position, though he did not name that person.

The council elected to review Marshall’s documents Marshall and elected to make a decision on the matter during Wednesday’s county council meeting.

“When this office first started, our pay was over and above the minimum employee standards set by the commission — were 7 or 8,000 dollars above the minimum; but they have changed that minimum standard,” Marshall said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilman Brian Thompson raised concerns over increasing a salary to attract an attorney, noting the council has approved of doing so before, and when the attorney has left the salary has remained the same.

The county council ultimately approved a motion to create a senior deputy public defender position and to increase the salary of the position from the chief public defender’s salary of $80,000 to $93,148, with the difference for 2024 being paid by the supplemental public defender fund. The council also approved a motion to “intend to” match the senior prosecutor’s position in pay.

The council meets every third Wednesday of the month at the courthouse. Meetings are open to the public and the press.

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