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Two public defenders say they deserve pay raises like other colleagues

NATCHEZ — Two Adams County public defense attorneys told the Adams County Board of Supervisors they deserve a pay raise to make their pay equal with other public defense attorneys who got raises in December.

During Tuesday supervisors’ meeting, public defense attorneys Lydia Blackmon and Aisha Sanders told the board of supervisors that all other public defenders in the county received an $800 per month raise in December via a court order signed by Adams County Circuit Judge Lillie B. Sanders, who is related to both Blackmon and Aisha Sanders.

Because of the relationship the judge could not authorize a pay raise for the two defenders without another court order signed by Judge Debra W. Blackwell, said Scott Slover, attorney for the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

Aisha Sanders said the demographic of the seven or eight lawyers who did receive raises would reflect badly on the board of supervisors if they chose not to take action.

“One of the discrepancies that I would like the board to make note of is there are three black attorneys on the list and only two black women, and they stand before you today,” Sanders said. “We are the only two who did not receive a raise. I would like for you to be aware of those optics because should you not take action here we will be forced to take additional action on you all.”

District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray said he has not seen a problem with discrimination since he has served on the board.

“ . . . To my knowledge we have never discriminated or treated any employee differently than the way we treated anyone else — not since I’ve been on this board,” Gray said “… This has nothing to do with race. This has to do with a judge who made a court order for seven people and didn’t make a court order for two. The other judge is supposed to issue the order for the two of you and said she would take it under advisement. We are going to get our legal counsel to talk to her and see where we are. I don’t know what else we can do.”

Blackmon said it came to her attention recently that Aisha Sanders and her were receiving $2,000 per month, which they believed all other public defenders were making.

“However, it was brought to my attention that in December of 2019 other public defenders received an increase to $2,800 per month,” Blackmon said. “… We were told that the judge did not sign the order for us to receive an increase, but it is my belief and our contention that the board is responsible for the budget.”

Blackmon said she believes it is well within the county’s budget to issue two more raises and said that the Board of Supervisors is ultimately the body responsible for paying the public defender’s salaries.

Slover said without enacting an office to manage the public defender’s payroll within the budget, the board had to budget the lawyers salaries pursuant to a judge’s court order.

“You would have to file an appeal to challenge a court order. … The judge orders how much is paid and (the Board of Supervisors) sets the parameters of what is in the overall budget,” Slover said.

Slover recommended that he talk with Blackwell and receive an update on whether she would raise Aisha Sanders’ and Blackmon’s salaries to match the rest.