The US Department of Justice has hired 117 prosecutors over the past year and a half to root out wrongdoing but there is one unusual hitch: they are not being paid.
US attorney offices from California to Connecticut have hired “uncompensated special assistant US attorneys” since a department-wide hiring freeze was announced in January 2011.
The unpaid attorney program, while unusual, has been used haphazardly at times in the past. But in January 2011, the DoJ began posting the volunteer positions more widely “as a strategic solution for offices to manage constrained resources”, a DoJ spokeswoman said. There are currently 10 postings for one-year positions in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“The pressure on US attorney offices everywhere in the country is to make decisions on what cases you can take and what cases you can decline. Having another [special assistant] to handle cases just means we can do more cases. It’s a win-win,” said Jerry Martin, the US attorney in Nashville.
Nashville hired one unpaid attorney who took four cases to trial during his year, Mr Martin said. They are in the process of hiring another unpaid attorney from a local law firm who Mr Martin anticipates will work on appeals.
The option of working for free has become more palatable as law firms retrench on hiring. But some legal scholars say it constrains the pool of prosecutors to those who can afford to work for free, while defence lawyers caution some prosecutors may be more aggressive to make an impression.