October 18, 2007

Contorted Math from the AG's Office

Justin Katz

Whatever the merits of its claims, this argument from the attorney general's office (concerning why it won't answer the governor's call to trim its workforce) is a head-shaker:

The attorney general's office employs 234 workers, barely enough staff to fill the current need, according to Christopher Cotta, director of administration and finance for the attorney general's office.

"To say we could do it with less is almost an insult," Cotta said, noting that his department has not asked for a staffing increase in the last two years. As it is, the attorney general’s staff will perform an estimated 25,000 hours of unpaid overtime this year because of staffing shortages, he said. ...

Cotta said that without adequate staffing to meet court deadlines, "There is the potential that something could fall through the cracks or get missed and somehow somebody ends up back on the streets who doesn’t belong on the streets."

The governor's office would not respond directly to Lynch's concerns, but it issued a spreadsheet demonstrating a budgetary increase at the attorney general’s office of about 36 percent since 2003. Lynch's spokesman Michael Healey countered by noting that overall state spending since 2003 has increased by more than 28 percent.

"It's kind of like the cheetah calling the dalmatian spotty," Healey said of the governor's analysis.

Huh? The budget of the attorney general's office has increased 29% more than that of the state overall, and it is therefore unfair to ask the AG to join the governor in trimming? Be the injustice of the AG's staff working an average of two hours more than full time (whatever the specifics) each week as it may, I'm always a bit suspicious when arguments against spending are based on non sequiturs.

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Wow. Just wow. 234 professionals who are working an average of two (2) hours per week unpaid overtime. The mind boggles. Oh, the humanity. Do they not understand the meaning of salaried exempt employees? (I do understand that some of these folks are support staff who are hourly - they should get comped properly - and will if the Department of Labor has anything to say about it, unless the AG's office is violating wage and hours regulations). Hey, Mr Cotta - I gotta idea - let's say they are working 90 million seconds of unpaid overtime. After all, that's a bigger number!

On the positive side, let's take a look at what the AG does for us - all those State House investigations like Dollar Bill. What's that you said? Oh. Oh. Never mind.

Posted by: chuckR at October 18, 2007 10:56 AM

Actually, I hope someone will explain to me why the AG's office is nowhere on the prominent corruption cases: Celona, Cianci, now Martineau etc all are under Federal prosecution. Is buying and selling votes only against Federal law but allowed under Rhode Island law?

Posted by: Barry at October 18, 2007 1:16 PM

Whether you like AG Lynch or not, historically the AG's office has by far the hardest working staff in state government.

The employees are all non-union, all unclassified and serve at the pleasure of the AG.

That doesn't mean that they shouldn't share in the pain of personnel cuts along with the rest of state government . . . but I think anyone who knows the Department knows the strong work ethic there, going back over many, many years and a number of administrations.

Posted by: brassband at October 18, 2007 2:16 PM


Please elaborate. If the workweek is either 37.5 hours or 40 hours, then 39.5 hours or 42 hours doesn't sound so onerous, especially compared to the workweeks of BigLaw associates. Did the spokesman mess up the unpaid OT hours? Does the AG's office have a different workweek? For the lawyers in the department, why is there even such a thing as overtime? They should be exempt employees. I'm not being sarcastic here; something doesn't add up and it could very well be the flackery. There might be a candidate to be RIF'ed.

They may very well be hardworking, but if they aren't working on issues of corruption, the impact of which affects the larger economic climate here, then the voters need to give some redirection at the top.

Posted by: chuckR at October 18, 2007 4:52 PM

I don't know where they come up with 25,000 hours of overtime.

The Assistant AGs and Special Assistant AGs, of course, don't get paid hourly, don't punch timeclocks. I don't know how you would express an overtime figure for these individuals.

To suggest that these attorneys work 37.5, or 40, hours a week is ridiculous. Virtually all of these attorneys work many evening hours, work over weekends, have to be on call for crime scenes and police calls, etc.

They are not complaining about it. They work hard because they believe in the mission of the office and because they want to win their cases.

Do they work as many hours as young associates in big law firms? I would say that they do not, but they do work long hours.

As for why they do not handle many public corruption cases, that's a question for the AG. He sets the policy for what the office pursues.

I suggest that you compare the six years of the Pine Administration (1993-98) and you will find that the office prosecuted dozens of high-profile public corruption cases, including a Chief Justice (Fay), a Speaker of the House (Smith), a Governor (Diprete), Mayors (Traficante, Levesque, etc.) and many others.

That all stopped when Sheldon Whitehouse became Attorney General and dismantled the White Collar Crime Unit.

You'll have to ask Sheldon why he did not want to continue to prosecute public corruption . . .

Posted by: brassband at October 18, 2007 7:09 PM

Brassband - thanks for the clarification. It makes sense that they work more typical lawyers hours. I'd expect a little better communication from a department that makes its living talking.
Sounds like a good question next election cycle is: Will you reinstate the White Collar Crime Unit?

Posted by: chuckR at October 18, 2007 7:21 PM

To clarify: 25,000 hours is Cotta's estimate of the unpaid overtime that the staff works. In other words, if one picks a "full time" number of hours and then estimates the number of hours actually worked, there are 25,000 hours more worked than the "full time" total. Most likely, those 25,000 hours don't break out evenly among the AG's staff, so some probably work 60 hours, while others work regular time.

That, of course, raises the question of whether there mightn't be some savings to be found among those who manage to work a regular schedule. Maybe not. But maybe.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 18, 2007 7:21 PM

If you want to see a Department working tons of unpaid OT, check out DCYF according to my sources.

Posted by: Rasputin-Khlyst at October 18, 2007 10:00 PM

I don't understand. If you're a salaried employee, there's not such thing as 'overtime' and if you're hourly and not filing your overtime you're an idiot. So how is that 'unpaid OT' can even exist?

Posted by: Greg at October 20, 2007 4:52 PM
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