Madam Speaker, I was a former prosecutor for 8 years and a judge in Texas for 22. I spent all my life basically in the criminal justice system as a prosecutor or as a trial judge, and I can attest to the high workload, long hours and low pay attributed to our Nation's prosecutors and to public defenders.
I have found over the years that most of them do what they do because they are committed to serving the public, either as a prosecutor or a public defender. They certainly don't do it for the money.
According to the Law Schools Admission Council, however, the average law school debt for an individual who borrows Federal or private loans is anywhere from $90,000 up. The starting salary for local and State prosecutors and public defenders starts anywhere at $25,000 and sometimes it reaches $50,000. It is not nearly enough to cover the expenses and keep up with the high loan repayments every month that these lawyers have to deal with.
This leaves many qualified and dedicated lawyers leaving the district attorney's office and the public defender's office for work in the private sector where they can make more money. What happens is these lawyers get trial experience at taxpayers' expense, then leave for the big law firms because of their low government salary and their high law school debt.
When I served in the criminal courts as a judge for 22 years, I saw many good prosecutors and public defenders just leave public service because of this problem.
The people of our Nation and the victims of crime need to have the best trial lawyers we can find to prosecute criminal cases. Defendants, likewise, need conpetent public defenders to represent the rights of the citizen accused.
I am honored to be a cosponsor of H.R. 916, the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2007. Prosecutors and public defenders can have up to $30,000 of law school debt erased if they serve 3 years in their current position in public service.
Of course, this is a renewable debt forgiveness. If the trial lawyer is willing to work another 3 years as a prosecutor or public defender, then a total of $60,000 of law school debt can be forgiven. Most of the time, this will still not cover the majority of their law school debt.
Of course, local and State courts will benefit because they will be able to keep qualified and competent trial lawyers. We need the best trial lawyers in our legal profession to try criminal cases for the State and the defense.
Madam Speaker, we basically have two types of lawyers--trial lawyers. We have civil lawyers, and there are a lot of wonderful trial lawyers who are civil lawyers.
But, basically, civil lawyers argue in the courtroom over money. Nothing wrong with that, but that's what they are arguing over.
But in the criminal courts, we are arguing over something much more important than money, and it's the liberty of the person on trial. It is very serious business, and that's why you need the best prosecutor and the best public defender that we can find to represent both sides because the stakes are so high.
I urge my colleagues to support passage of H.R. 916.