Virginia Beach public defenders push for higher pay

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — There are plenty of arguments made every day inside the Virginia Beach Courthouse, but there’s one that is now outside the courtroom and inside City Council Chambers.

“If you want a fair fight, you want both sides paid the same,” said Head Virginia Beach Public Defender Cal Bain.

The fight is over a salary difference between prosecutors and public defenders. A starting prosecutor makes a little more than $70,000, while a public defender starts at $52,000.

“I would say it is a lot easier to ask for money for prosecution,” Bain added. “It’s not so popular to ask for money for the side that’s defending people accused of crimes.”

Virginia Beach’s public defenders sometimes leave the office in search of new opportunities.

“I lose people to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office,” Bain said.

One of those who left in search to make more money was Bassel Khalaf.  Khalaf worked as a public defender but is now a private defense attorney.

“Anybody who is from a low-income community who gets charged with a crime, they rely on public defenders to give them good representation,” Khalaf added. “They make sure they have their day in court and hold the police accountable.”

In most places, the two sides make equal money, but in Virginia Beach, the city gives the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office a $6 million supplement to help fund programs and extra salary money.

“I’ve worked with public defenders, and I’ve seen the role they play in the criminal justice system, and it truly is one of the hardest jobs that there is in the criminal justice system,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle.

Stolle is helping to lead the charge to make sure attorneys on both sides are getting equal pay.

“This is a public safety issue,” Stolle added. “It really is and it’s not how generally the public tends to look at public defender’s office but having good competent representation on both sides of the case, to me, makes our community a safer place for everyone.”

The city manager didn’t have an increase for public defenders in the proposed budget, but some council members are trying to change that. They say it would take $800,000 to get the public defenders on the same level as prosecutors.

There are a couple virtual of public hearings on the budget over the next couple weeks. The city said Tuesday those budget public hearings are scheduled for Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 6 p.m. and on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 6 p.m.

According to the city, the April 21 public hearing will focus on:

  • Operating Budget and Capital Improvement Program
  • Increase to Fees – Short Term Rental Permit, Small Wireless Facilities Administrative Review, and Small Wireless Facilities Standard Review
  • Authorization of $68,652,307 in General Obligation Bonds
  • Authorization of $9,993,368 in Water and Sewer Utility Revenue Bonds
  • Authorization of $50,545,315 in Stormwater Utility Revenue Bonds

Residents who want to make public comments during the virtual hearings must register for the WebEx and register with the City Clerk’s Office by calling 757-385-4303 prior to 5 p.m. on the day of the hearing.

  • April 21 – Register for the WebEx meeting here.
  • April 27 – Register for the WebEx meeting here.

To send a comment to the entire City Council, email ctycncl@vbgov.com.

To send a comment to an individual City Council member, find email addresses here.

Send other budget questions to budget@vbgov.com.

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