It is too soon to call either situation a crisis, but the City’s top two lawyers — Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and City Counselor Patricia Hageman — are both facing difficult futures.
The Circuit Attorney’s Office prosecutes violations of state law. It is a busy place, with about the same number of lawyers as a mid-size law firm. Over the last decade or so, the office has had a relatively high turn-over. Some attorneys leave for better-paying jobs with private criminal defense firms. Others leave because of the nature and pace of the practice. To address these departures, Jennifer Joyce has re-organized the departments and increased pay for lawyers.
The City Counselor provides legal assistance and representation to the City, its related agencies and departments, and its elected and appointed officers. It is smaller than the Circuit Attorney’s office, pays a little better, and allows its attorneys to maintain modest law practices of their own. Patricia Hageman’s looming problem is the impending retirement of several of her most senior staff attorneys — who are leaving to take advantage of the City’s generous sick-leave buy-back and pension programs. There is no real way to replace the institutional memory the City will lose when some of its most experienced lawyers retire. To replace the lost competence (at least in the short term), the City Counselor is going to have to increase her reliance on outside lawyers in order to keep the legal playing field level when the City and its agencies deal with the public.
I’ll be watching both offices closely.