November 29, 2004
Going to Trial
Why do prosecutors take a case to trial? A forthcoming article by two economists, Cheryl X. Long (Colgate) and Richard T. Boylan (Alabama) seeks to answer, at least in part, the question by looking at the local labor markets in which Assistant United States Attorneys operate. The article, "Salaries, Plea Rates, and the Career Objectives of Federal Prosecutors," is scheduled to appear in the Journal of Law and Economics in October 2005, and is available through SSRN here. The authors' abstract states:
We examine the relation between local labor markets and the behavior of federal prosecutors. Empirical evidence is provided that assistant U.S. attorneys in districts with high private salaries are more likely to take a case to trial, compared to assistants in districts with low private salaries. We explain this finding as follows. In high salary districts, government salaries are not competitive relative to the private sector. As a result, positions of federal prosecutors are sought by individuals who want the trial experience needed to secure desired private sector employment. The following additional evidence is provided to further support this explanation. First, the turnover of assistant U.S. attorneys is higher in high-private-salary districts than in low-private-salary districts. Second, individuals who leave their employment as assistant U.S. attorneys are of higher quality in districts with higher private lawyer salaries. Third, assistant U.S. attorneys with more trial experience are more likely to take positions in large private law firms.
An interesting thesis, although one might question the linkage between the salary levels for private attorneys and the quality of local federal prosecutors. (ph)