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Ontario's Crown prosecutors have negotiated a new contract that will give some of them salary increases of as much as 60 per cent over 4½ years, and vault top government lawyers into the pay range of provincial judges.

The deal, which took 14 months to draft, still has to be ratified.

Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that while the 1,300 Crown lawyers will get a 14.2 per cent base salary increase over the period of the contract, merit and "pay-for-performance" increases will boost the pay of many of them much more dramatically.

The biggest percentage rise would go to relatively junior lawyers earning about $69,000 in January of 2005, the start date for the new salary grid. With combined base salary and performance improvements, their pay would jump almost 60 per cent to $110,000 by 2009.

Mid-range lawyers -- about two-thirds of the group -- would get increases totalling about 45 per cent, to around $184,000 by the start of 2009.

For the most experienced Crown lawyers, the percentage increases would be somewhat less, but their income would rise above $200,000 by the end of the contract, just short of the $213,630 basic pay provincial judges get.

Representatives from the Ontario Crown Attorneys' Association, (which represents criminal prosecutors) and the Association of Law Officers of the Crown (which represents civil prosecutors) said yesterday they would not comment on the deal until ratification votes are completed next week.

A spokesman for Ontario's Ministry of Government Services said the management board of cabinet has yet to sign off on the deal.

The proposed increases are higher than those given most other provincial workers. Ontario teachers last year got a wage increase of about 10 per cent over four years.

Lawyers who do legal-aid defence work -- and who have had only two small pay increases in almost two decades -- were aghast at the prosecutors' new rates.

"The disparity is outrageous," said Cindy Wasser, a Toronto criminal lawyer. The new pay levels may help keep good prosecutors in government service, she said, but "indigent people charged with serious crimes won't get good lawyers."

Some private-sector lawyers, however, said the Crowns deserve a substantial raise because their work load is increasingly heavy and they can make far more money by shifting into private practice.

Still, one Toronto lawyer who recently left the Crown service to join a private firm said, it is a scandal that while prosecutors get more, legal-aid lawyers' pay has stalled.

Prosecution lawyers who work for the federal government will not see the Ontario pay rise. This could make it tough for Ottawa to recruit and retain its legal professionals, said Don Eady, a lawyer who represents federal prosecutors in the Toronto region. Federal Crowns -- whose maximum pay is now about $168,000 -- do essentially the same work, he said.