County Attorney’s Office looking to bring in seasoned prosecutors with higher pay rate for deputy attorneys

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Graham County Attorney L. Scott Bennett makes his case for salary reclassifications for deputy county attorneys to bring in more experienced prosecutors.

Scott Adams appointed as Chief Deputy County Attorney

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – On Jan. 4, the Graham County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request by newly-elected Graham County Attorney L. Scott Bennett to reclassify some of its office’s deputy positions to allow for higher starting pay to bring in more experienced prosectors. 

While the move will open up the lower positions to a higher salary, the budget for the Attorney’s Office will actually be the same or lower. Bennett replaced Kenny Angle who retired after 20 years of service to the office, and Bennett’s replacement of Chief Deputy County Attorney, Scott Adams, does not have the same amount of experience Bennett has, thereby earning a lower salary than Bennett received last year. Adams was approved to be Bennett’s successor as Chief Deputy County Attorney at the same meeting. 

“I’ve allocated the funds so that we are not exceeding what was previously given to the office,” Bennett said. “In fact, it is my hope, that even after adjustments are made . . . that we will be spending less on salary than we were previously. I don’t want that to be interpreted as a slight to my predecessor. That’s not the case. The reality is I have much more experience and I was personally at a higher pay level than basically where we are. So, we are saving money.”

While Bennett has “much more experience” than anyone else currently in the Graham County Attorney’s Office, that isn’t the case when compared to the defense attorneys on contract for indigent services for the county. 

“We’re dealing with a defense bar that actually exceeds the experience level of every attorney in the office with the exception of myself,” Bennett said. “And, to be honest with you, I only have more experience than one of the attorneys on the defense contract. At the end of the day, it would be nice to have somebody who has the sophistication of the legal system and the expertise to more evenly match a very, very talented and experienced defense bar.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Graham County Attorney L. Scott Bennett, left, and Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred have a word prior to the start of the Jan. 4 BOS meeting.

While a number of Arizona Counties run their own Public Defender’s offices – which are usually stacked with attorneys right out of law school – Graham County contracts individually with defense attorneys for indigent defense cases. With that and the salary levels for deputy attorneys in the County Attorney’s Office, it was the prosecution who had entry-level attorneys and not the defense in Graham County.

Bennett requested the BOS approve salary designations for deputy attorneys to be raised so he could attract more experienced attorneys. 

“We’ve found a way we can improve the office, have more even-footed prosecutors, and still save money, and I’m hoping the board will entertain this request and allow the reclassification so I can get some good, solid, experienced people.”

The BOS unanimously approved the appointment of Scott Adams as Chief Deputy County Attorney, and the reclassification of two deputy county attorney positions to a higher starting rate.