Supervisors discuss raise for prosecuting attorney|[05/10/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 10, 2008

Richard JohnsonHow much to raise the pay of Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Richard Johnson remains to be decided by county supervisors.

Legislation passed this year to allow pay for the post to rise to 90 percent of a county judge’s salary, $103,170 here, up from the current rate matching supervisors at $44,812, plus $1,000 monthly for clerical expenses.

Elected during state-level election cycles, county prosecutors are the local versions of district attorneys. They are in charge of enforcing all county ordinances, presenting cases in youth and justice courts. The county prosecutor also advises grand jurors on questions of law.

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Thursday, Johnson said on a recent day in justice court 32 cases were heard and that “tied a record.”

“The job is a full-time job. It requires full-time attention,” Johnson said.

Many prosecuting attorneys are paid as part-time employees, like supervisors, but with variable salaries often based on population. A bill co-authored by Reps. Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, and Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, allows Warren County to join Forrest, Rankin, Madison and Harrison counties in paying more.

Supervisors were receptive to approving more money for the position based on case backlogs, but indicated it would not be the $93,573 maximum.

“The nomenclature of ‘full time’ and ‘part time’ don’t mean a thing,” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said. “It all depends on who gets elected.”

Price, also Youth Court judge, held the job before his election to his current post in 2002. Local attorney Marcie Southerland held the position on an interim basis after Price’s election, but opted to run for state senator in 2003. Johnson won without opposition that year and in last year’s election cycle.

Johnson does not have office space at the courthouse and maintains a private practice. Situations where the occupant of the office comes into contact with the same offenders on differing sides of the legal aisle may dissipate if the post is elevated to full-time, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said.

“It would lessen the pool of people he can defend on the (private) side,” McDonald said.

Another possible effect would create more qualifiers to run for the post. Elevating the post to full-time in stature and salary would put the county’s judicial system in line with other counties who either have full-time prosecutors already or at least an assistant, Johnson said.