Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Destruction of the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office

With the record number of killings in Baltimore these past 18 months, it's easy to overlook just one more murder, one that won't appear in the stats: the snuffing out of the Baltimore prosecutor's office by its leader, Marilyn Mosby.

Mosby touted the law enforcement background of herself and her family members when running for State's Attorney. But upon taking office she immediately demonstrated her indifference to public safety by firing numerous prosecutors. One was in the middle of a trial. Who cares? Not Mosby. The case was promptly lost.

Another fired prosecutor, who probably had to counsel her when he was her supervisor (Mosby was a mediocre trial attorney known chiefly for yelling), had successfully tried numerous difficult homicide cases in his career.  They include the 1999 massacre of five women in a city rowhouse, and (ironically) the prosecution of a police officer for killing a suspect.  Despite his more than 30 years of experience and success, Mosby let him and others go in revenge for personal piques she developed in her own brief and lackluster career, which included no cases of any significance.  

Mosby followed her hatchet jobs with a memo written by deputy Michael Schatzow - who had no experience as a city prosecutor and was less than two months into the job - stating that prosecutors were now "expected and encouraged to consider plea negotiations...that include a supervised term of probation with...mental health counseling or...drug treatment program."  In other words, open the jail doors and let 'em out.  Schatzow is apparently unaware of how limited treatment slots are and how failing to participate in treatment is rarely sanctioned. 

Now I don't oppose treatment for appropriate offenders, if they actually participate.  And Schatzow emphasized that this policy was for "non-violent offenders" committing "non-violent" crimes.  But therein lies the rub.  I began my blog with an indictment of the criminal justice system for its failure to identify and appropriately handle persons who were major threats to public safety.  And Schatzow's memo gave prosecutors no guidance whatsoever, leaving it to the eye of the beholder.  Under Mosby's clueless policy, a person dealing drugs with a dropped attempted murder charge and a separate handgun case in his background could be considered a non-violent criminal committing a non-violent crime, when in fact he poses a dangerous threat to Baltimore.

Then came the Freddie Gray fiasco, when Mosby signaled to the entire world that her focus was not upon crime but upon evening the score with police, even if it meant elevating an accidental death into a murder case.  She called the looters and batterers of police in the Baltimore riots "our children" and lashed out angrily when her non-existent case collapsed.  Would that she showed such passion for the victims of shootings and murders, and for the children who live their lives in daily risk of violence.  

Following the Freddie Gray trials a packet arrived at my doorstep containing police notes and emails between Mosby's office and a police investigator. These notes contained material that had already been publicly revealed (tension between police and prosecutors, Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe's indifference to any facts that did not support her theory of the case.)  But the series of questions posed in the anonymous note revealed the profound lack of trust in Mosby by her prosecutors. Examples:

  • Did Jan Bledsoe and [homicide team leader] Lisa Goldberg meet privately with the medical examiner and encourage the ME to change her conclusion and rule it a homicide...
  • Did the head of homicide...object to the charging decision and refuse to attend announcement of charges? Did most people in office agree..that charging was based on politics, not evidence, but have been warned that they will be fired if Marilyn found out?
  • Was Bledsoe's partner (Jayne Miller) given special access to Donta Allen [who rode in the transport vehicle with Gray] who changed his original story during Jayne's interview?
  • This is the most embarrassing prosecutor's office in the country.  What example are its leaders setting? And in the biggest case ever.  Mike, Jan, just go back to private practice, make your money and let people who care not about politics but about the city and fighting crime and doing justice get back to work.
Mosby continues to drive this level of demoralization downward.  She has been hiring career public defenders and defense attorneys to help her run the office (which is top heavy with administrators and low on trial attorneys.  Oh, wait, she doesn't need trial attorneys in her plea-bargain environment.)  The latest example is Valda Ricks, who after 25 years as a public defender is now Chief of Operations for Mosby.  As one ex-prosecutor said, Are you kidding me? Ricks is a nice person who stuck around long enough in her office to get promoted but was never any kind of special talent.  And she certainly never walked in the shoes of a prosecutor, yet now is running much of the show. (Think of the job Schatzow and Bledsoe have done, two other non-prosecutors.)  

Mosby has essentially told her staff two things:  none of you are qualified for this job, and I want us to be more like public defenders than prosecutors.

Perhaps she's right that there aren't any qualified city prosecutors left to be Chief of Operations.  By one attorney's count, 64 prosecutors have been fired or quit since Mosby took over.  That's an extraordinary level of attrition, averaging more than 3 per month, which has left her stripped of experience.  And Mosby can't attract experience from other prosecutor offices after demonstrating her incompetence, arrogance, and subversion of a prosecutor's duty in the Freddie Gray case.

One might think that she has no choice but to turn to former public defenders, but I think she's happy with that. Mosby sees herself as the Robin Hood of the criminal justice system, except that instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, her cause is to rescue criminal defendants from the oppression of the criminal justice system (and society) and stick it to those who protect public safety.

The job of defense attorneys is to defend the rights and interests of individual defendants.  Prosecutors, consistent with the law and ethical standards, are charged with ensuring public safety for all citizens.  Mosby is more interested in the former than the latter, which puts her in the wrong job.  The criminal justice system is predicated on advocacy from two points of view, guided by the law and moderated by the judiciary. Transforming the prosecutor's office into an extension of the public defender imperils public safety.  Dangerous offenders turned back onto the street through toothless probations or incompetent prosecutions will continue to prey on - guess what - our children. 

Mosby busted up morale in the police department with her unfounded criminal charges in the Freddie Gray case.   She has simultaneously destroyed the morale of her own office and caused crippling attrition. The damage caused by one woman is truly shocking.

With the two agencies that are responsible for public safety teetering on the edge, Baltimore's crime numbers are sky high and will get worse before they get better.  The question really is, will they ever get better.