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Indiana lawyer shortage slowing the wheels of justice

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The constitution guarantees a speedy trial to anyone accused of a crime. Indiana is short on lawyers, which means prosecuting attorneys and public defenders are having a hard time getting cases resolved.

 “I think it has slowed some for sure,” Terry Modesitt, the Vigo County Prosecutor, said.

Modesitt was recently elected to a fifth term. His office has two deputy prosecutor openings that have been vacant for a year.

The county council has approved a salary for these positions in the mid-sixties. But, Modesitt is having a tough time finding any takers.

“In my opinion, the pay is low, so it is hard to get someone. They can make a lot more money in private practice or being public defenders,” Modesitt said.

According to the Indiana Public Defender Commission, Indiana has well below half of the lawyers needed to meet the spinning wheels of justice. 

The cost to attend law school is partially to blame, law school debt can easily approach $100 thousand. 

 “There was a time when only the top five or maybe 20% of law school graduates got the big offers from the big law firms, and that is no longer the case. The law firms have to go much deeper into the classes to fill their needs and they are still able to out pay the public sector,” Andrew Cullen of the Indiana Public Defenders Commission said.

Those that choose to take a public defender or deputy prosecutor position typically don’t stay long.  

“Once we train them and they know what they are doing, then they leave because they can double their pay every quickly,” Modesitt siad.

Modesitt said that even if he filled the two open positions right away, his office would still be understaffed by at least 8 people.

He is asking the county council to increase salaries and approve additional positions.   

 “It is like everywhere else, we have other businesses…they are all going to have to raise the pay to get people to come to work and we are going to have to do the same thing,” Modesitt said.

According to data from the Indiana Public Defender Commission, only four Indiana counties, including Marion County, have enough lawyers to meet the needs of the public and judicial system.