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Regime change brings shake-up in city prosecutor's office

A prosecutor was pulled by the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office in the middle of trial last week

A number of criminal court proceedings in Baltimore are being disrupted as prosecutors are pulled off cases amid turnover in the state's attorney's office.

The city's new state's attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby, is reshaping the office after winning election in November. In addition to a number of high-level officials who left before Mosby was sworn in last week, several prosecutors have been dismissed in recent days, according to sources familiar with the personnel decisions.

Mosby, who is expected to announce some of her new leadership at a staff meeting Wednesday, is only the third top prosecutor in two decades in Baltimore, and ripple effects the turnover has caused have taken some courthouse observers by surprise.

Tammy Brown, director of external communications for Mosby, declined to discuss personnel decisions, citing state law.

"With new leadership comes change, but we are working diligently to ensure a swift transition," read a statement from the office sent by Brown.

The city's court docket is famously overcrowded and multiple postponements are typical, but the departures have caused additional complications. In one case Tuesday, Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown ordered a hearing to determine whether delay caused by a prosecutor's being pulled from the case violates the robbery defendants' right to a speedy trial.

Grant McDaniel, a felony drug prosecutor with 18 years in the state's attorney's office, said he was told Monday evening that he was being "separated without cause." He was handling 130 active cases.

Prosecutors in Baltimore are at-will employees. They make a range of salaries; higher-ranking officials in the state's attorney's office make more than $100,000 a year.

"I'm still processing it," McDaniel said. "Part of what makes it frustrating is I liked the job a lot, and I thought I was pretty good at it."

Eight of McDaniel's cases were to be in court Thursday.

Before he was summoned to receive the news, McDaniel said, word of other dismissals was swirling around the office. "It was pretty bleak on Monday," he said. "There's a lot of shock. I think a lot of people are terrified."

Veteran defense attorney Jerry Tarud said he spoke with a longtime prosecutor who was let go. He declined to identify that person, saying he didn't have permission to speak on the person's behalf.

"The state's attorney's office lost some high-caliber people and along with that a great deal of experience," Tarud said. "You can't teach experience — you learn it."

Tarud represented one of the defendants in the robbery case, in which defense attorneys argued against the case being postponed.

Nancy Olin, who has nearly 20 years of experience with the office, gave opening statements in another case, the robbery trial of Demetrius Carter, on Friday, following jury selection the day before, and called her first witness, according to a review of the proceedings.

"This case may be short in duration — it may take until Monday — but it doesn't mean it's not important," Olin told jurors.

She did not return after the lunch break, and the trial continued with another prosecutor in her place. The reason for the change was not disclosed to jurors.

Defense attorney Augustine Okeke said he had never seen a prosecutor removed mid-trial. Okeke said in opening statements that his client was at home sleeping at the time of the robbery; he was acquitted by jurors on Monday.

Olin was the original prosecutor on the case slated for trial Tuesday, and defense attorneys said in court that they were told that she was "on administrative leave" and argued another postponement in the case would be unfair to their clients.

Defense attorney Ivan Bates said his client had been in custody for more than 400 days. "This is not justice," he said.

Brown, of the state's attorney's office's, said she could not comment on Olin's status.

Olin declined to comment when reached by phone.

The other new top prosecutor in the Baltimore region, Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Wes Adams, also made waves by firing four of the office's top prosecutors last week. Former State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, a Democrat who lost to Republican Adams in a hotly contested election, called the terminations a "travesty."

Before Mosby took office last week, much of her predecessor's top staff had left for other positions.

State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein's deputy and the head of his Major Investigations Unit took jobs with Attorney General Brian Frosh, while Bernstein's chief of staff, head of economic crimes, and top police misconduct prosecutor left for other positions.

Mosby, a former assistant state's attorney who bested Bernstein in the Democratic primary in June and faced only write-in opposition in November, announced her first additions to the staff last week. They included a former partner at the Venable law firm in Baltimore as her chief deputy.

She also has added a new spokesperson, Arinze Ifekauche, who worked on her campaign and has worked at City Hall and on Capitol Hill.

Additional staffing changes, including a reorganization of the office, are expected to be announced Wednesday.

Tim Pratt of the Baltimore Sun Media Group contributed to this article

jfenton@baltsun.com

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