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Prosecutors moonlight to make ends meet

Assistant DAs say they love 1st jobs

Suzanne Dunleavy of Marshfield, a prosecutor for the Plymouth County District Attorney's office, instructs step dancers in Norwell to make ends meet.
Suzanne Dunleavy of Marshfield, a prosecutor for the Plymouth County District Attorney's office, instructs step dancers in Norwell to make ends meet. (Globe Staff Photo / Essdras M. Suarez)

After spending all day in court, Assistant District Attorney John McLaughlin often drives his '98 Ford Explorer to a second job -- at a funeral home in East Milton Square. Assistant District Attorney Suzanne Dunleavy spends her nights and weekends teaching Irish step dancing classes for extra money. Other cash-strapped prosecutors moonlight tending bar, wiping tables, mopping supermarket floors, or painting houses. One drives the Zamboni at an ice rink.

The starting salary for assistant district attorneys is $35,000, not enough for many young prosecutors to live on -- and to pay off their law school loans.

Fifteen percent of the state's assistant district attorneys work second jobs, according to a 2004 survey by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. In Suffolk County, 1 in 5 moonlights.

McLaughlin, 32, has friends working at private law firms who make double his salary. But his frequent court work -- he has tried some 300 cases -- brings rewards that cannot be measured in cash, he said.

''I love this job; I like working with the victims," he said. ''There's nothing better than winning a case for a victim. It lets people know that the system works sometimes."

To be an assistant district attorney, ''I think you have to have a second job," he said. ''We lose a lot of people because they just can't afford it."

McLaughlin has had a second job throughout his seven-year career at the Plymouth district attorney's office. Several nights a week, he tends to grieving families at the Alfred D. Thomas Funeral Home in Milton. (Last month, he worked 11 wakes.)

It's a perfect part-time gig because wakes ''don't start until I get out of court," he said.

''People come up to me at funerals and ask if I'll be there the next day, and I say, 'No, I'll be in court,' " he said.

''People are shocked all the time. People assume lawyers make a lot of money . . . but not on this side of it."

Dunleavy, 27, was a competitive Irish step dancer when she landed a job in the Plymouth district attorney's office. She started giving dance lessons in 2004 to earn extra cash. In January, she and a business partner started the Dunleavy Shaffer School of Irish Dance.

Stephen Patten, a 31-year-old assistant district attorney in Essex County, splits his time between Gloucester District Court and Newburyport District Court, and then works the evening shift at a health club in Beverly.

Before getting the part-time job at the health club, Patten worked at Stop & Shop in North Beverly.

He was stationed at the supermarket's deli counter, where he sliced meat, served customers, cleaned equipment, and mopped floors for 20 hours each week.

Acquaintances and former high school classmates occasionally would come in to Stop & Shop. When they saw him working in the deli, they'd ask, ''Aren't you a lawyer now?"

Patten would reply, ''I am, and I pay $1,000 a month in school loans."

He said his girlfriend, a paralegal in Boston, makes more than he does. But he can't imagine leaving his prosecutor's job.

''It's a wonderful, wonderful occupation," he said. ''I would do it the rest of my life if I can afford it. Having a second job has allowed me to continue to do what I love."

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.

 Prosecutors moonlight to make ends meet (By Emily Sweeney, Globe Staff, 4/22/06)
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