Amy Sholar, the Republican candidate for Madison County state’s attorney, on Friday said contract assistant state’s attorneys should not receive full-time benefits.
In a short statement issued by the chairman of the Madison County Republican Party, Sholar said that this practice shows her opponent, Thomas Gibbons, is not fiscally responsible and if elected, she would put an end to it.
Although “hiring contract or part-time assistant state’s attorneys is quite common,” Sholar said “it is unacceptable for my opponent to allow some of them to receive health insurance, pension benefits and big salaries when they actually only work a few days each week and maintain a separate law practice outside of the courthouse.”
Gibbons, a Democrat who is running to keep the position he was appointed to in 2010, said Sholar doesn’t have all of the facts right and “is just grasping at straws.”
Sholar’s statements came in the form of a news release and included documents showing the names of several area attorneys who previously or currently contract with the prosecutor’s office, as well as whether they receive benefits.
The highest paid contract assistant state’s attorney, according to Sholar, is Alton attorney Phil Alfeld, “who is classified as a full time employee, receives benefits and currently earns $52,000 per year in salary.” Sholar added that the website of Schrempf, Kelly, Napp & Darr lists Alfeld as one of its attorneys.
Gibbons said attorneys hired to do contract work for his office are allowed to have a private law practice as well.
Alfeld, he said, might have a desk and do some work at the law firm, but can’t imagine him doing much there because “he is pretty much tied up with our work.”
Gibbons said Alfeld has been an assistant state’s attorney since 1989 and currently handles the entire docket for the Alton satellite office, which includes more than 5,000 traffic matters a year.
He also serves as the attorney for the county’s community development department, advises county board committees and serves as an assistant attorney general for the state, Gibbons said.
Besides Alfeld, Sholar listed Tonya Genovese by name as a part-time assistant state’s attorney who makes $32,000 a year and receives retirement benefits from the county. She also serves as the treasurer of Gibbons’ campaign.
Gibbons said like Alfeld, Genovese does a lot of work for his office.
She handles about half of Granite City’s traffic and misdemeanor docket, which Gibbons said probably equals about 5,000 cases. He also said Genovese handles civil, felony and legislative matters for his office.
“Mr. Gibbons says that he's fiscally responsible, but I don't see how giving well-paying contract jobs with benefits to his friends can be considered fiscally responsible," Sholar said.
“He is paying some attorneys who don’t even work at the courthouse more than he's paying some assistant state’s attorneys who come in and work every day for Madison County,” she added. “It gives new meaning to the phrase ‘friends with benefits.’”
She went on to say that if she were elected, she would “end the practice of giving big salaries and full time benefits to attorneys who are either classified as part time or otherwise maintain a law practice outside the courthouse.”
Sholar contends that if these attorneys are going to receive taxpayer provided benefits, they need to be employed full-time by the county and not have a law practice on the side.
In response to Sholar’s press release on the issue, Gibbons said “Do these people work at the state’s attorney’s office? Yes. Did I hire them? No. They have worked in the office for years and are extremely experienced, qualified people that do a lot of work that benefits the county.”
Gibbons said if Sholar wants to be state’s attorney, she needs to get the facts right. While Alfeld and Genovese receive benefits, they still have to pay for them, he said.
“Any and every one employed by the county has a right to pay for benefits if they want them,” he said, explaining that he pays “over $7,000 for health insurance for my family. They pay the same price as everyone else and we pay out of our pocket for benefits.”
He said Sholar has “a lack of knowledge and understanding of how the office works,” which results in “broad, unsubstantiated claims.”
For instance, Gibbons said, Sholar has said during the campaign that she would put the office’s “more seasoned” attorneys in the juvenile abuse and child support divisions, instead of recent law school graduates.
Gibbons said that would be “a recipe for disaster."
He said it is “terrifying” to imagine taking experienced attorneys who prosecute murders and rapists off their current assignments.
Noting the salary disparity for new attorneys in the private and public sectors, Gibbons said he believes the county gets “an extraordinary bargain for new lawyers.”
These new lawyers, he said, choose to make about $40,000 at the county as opposed to $120,000 at a big law firm, something Gibbons contends shows their dedication to public service.
Rookie prosecutors, he said, typically start off handling traffic matters, although some do work in the child support and enforcement division. Regardless of their assignments, Gibbons said that all new attorneys receive training and guidance to ensure their work meets the office’s high standards.
As for Sholar’s claim that he isn’t fiscally responsible, Gibbons said he has cut his office’s budget and returned money to the county every year since he was appointed to the post.
“The state’s attorney’s office operates well and I’m going to continue to do that and do it in a way that’s responsible and respectful of taxpayer dollars,” he said.