‘A threat to public safety’: Staffing shortage and low morale plague Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office

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A screenshot from the reelection campaign video of Baltimore state's attorney Marilyn Mosby in April 2022.

When Michael Turiello became a deputy chief in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office Narcotics Unit in August 2019, there were 11 prosecutors under his watch.

When he left the office, and the job he loved, last October, the number of prosecutors had dwindled to seven.


As of Friday, that number was five, according to internal staffing information obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Like many divisions in the office, it has not been fully staffed for years. The office, long considered one of Maryland’s most prestigious prosecutor’s offices, has lost more than 80 prosecutors in recent years, even as the city faces unrelenting violence, including more than 300 homicides every year since 2015.


Interviews in recent weeks with more than two dozen current and former prosecutors, the majority of who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, reveal an office where grueling hours, large caseloads and depleted morale have driven people out. What’s more, some say the lack of staffing could pose a public safety threat as cases mount and prosecutors are unable to prepare for trial.

“It’s been a threat to public safety for years,” Turiello said. “I want to be very, very clear about this: It is impossible to do the job with that few people. At that level, it is absolutely dangerous.”

Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, in a letter Friday to Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, acknowledged that burnout is playing a role in driving departures, writing that “unsustainable increased caseloads (made worse by the attrition rate and Covid-19 backlog), wage and compensation, and the lack of work life balance” were to blame, based on exit interviews of 14 attorneys who recently left the office.

Of others who left and were interviewed by The Sun, some went to other state’s attorney’s offices, sometimes taking pay cuts. Others took posts in other state and city agencies, saying they wanted better work-life balance and to better develop cases.

Current staffing information provided to The Sun shows there are 50 prosecutors, not including supervisors, in units regularly handling felony cases, ranging from drugs and guns to rapes and homicides. As recently as March 2021, those units were meant to have 79 attorneys, according to interviews with former prosecutors.

Mosby, who is running for a third term and facing two challengers in the July primary, said Friday that her office was “in the process of tallying” the number of trial attorneys in her employ but insisted her felony units were fully staffed. She expressed confidence her office can address the city’s violence.

Costello, also a Democrat, had questioned the office’s staffing levels in advance of Monday night’s hearing on the proposed $39.6 million budget for the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Responding to Costello’s concerns in the letter, Mosby said she counted 144 prosecutors on staff.


But she counted some who recently left the office or had submitted resignations and would be leaving soon. Internal staffing records show there are 133 designated prosecutors in the office.

And that count includes everyone who works there with a law degree, including executive employees like Mosby and support staff who rarely try cases. For example, the office’s information technologies manager is counted as a prosecutor, despite serving in a support role. Another employee listed as a homicide prosecutor lives in California and writes post-conviction responses and motions, according to several people within the office.

“In the best of times, it’s been a little bit of being stretched too thin,” one current prosecutor said. “And we are not now in the best of times. We’re just grievously understaffed.”

As the number of staff decreases — there were 206 attorneys as of 2018, according to publicly available salary records — so does the level of experience in the office.

In 2014, Democrat Gregg Bernstein’s last full year as state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorneys in the office had a median of 8.9 years of experience, according to a Sun analysis of historical salary data. In fiscal year 2021, the most recent year data is available, the median experience level was 5.3 years.

Put another way, the typical city prosecutor has about half as much experience as they did eight years ago.


“The institutional knowledge that’s been lost is astonishing and it has a catastrophic effect: Inexperienced prosecutors, lack of training and, at this juncture, the defense bar is having a field day,” said one prosecutor who left the office earlier this year.

The attrition has meant inexperienced prosecutors rise more quickly.

Typically, attorneys start in one of the District Courts, handling misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses. Homicide, special victims and major investigations are considered the most prestigious assignments. It’s now common for someone to reach one of those units in about five years; that would have been rare in 2017, several sources said.

The Major Investigations Unit, tasked with targeting organized crime, is down to two prosecutors and has been combined with narcotics. Past employees said the unit’s goal was to have nine assistant state’s attorneys and one chief.

Other units also are depleted. The Economic Crimes Unit used to have three prosecutors and a unit chief. As of Friday, there was only the chief.

The Gun Violence Enforcement Division, responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes of violence committed with a firearm; had 11 prosecutors, two chiefs, support staff, law clerks and an attachment of Baltimore Police Department detectives in 2018. As of Friday, there were eight people in the unit, including three transferred there in the past few days. One of the eight recently submitted their resignation.


While getting a new assignment, the transferred attorneys must keep their preexisting cases, which could number in the dozens or even hundreds.

“The approach, at this point, is to try to get rid of (cases), meaning work out any plea that you possibly can in order not to dismiss them,” said another former prosecutor who left last fall. “You end up making much lower offers sometimes than your cases are worth or what you would usually offer because it’s just not tenable for you to go forward with all of them or prep them as much as you would.”

Several current and former employees said executive leadership offered little support and that Mosby was rarely present in the office.

“When you’re struggling for morale, seeing stuff like your boss saying she was in Florida for 70 days doesn’t make you feel well — especially when you don’t see her very often,” said one former employee, referencing a letter Mosby wrote to a mortgage lender in 2020 to secure a lower interest rate, saying she had spent the past two months living in Florida.

The letter was included as part of a federal criminal indictment charging Mosby with the felonies of perjury and mortgage fraud related to her purchase of two Florida vacation homes. Her trial is scheduled for September.

When she is in the office, current and former employees said Mosby hardly interacts with the prosecutors working for her.


“She may have been at the office on the 10th floor, but her presence wasn’t felt anywhere else,” said Turiello, who’s now in private practice.

While many current and former employees agree with most of Mosby’s progressive policies, they expressed frustration over how they were implemented. Nearly everyone interviewed said they found out about policies from the news media rather than their supervisors.

“When it was announced that the office would no longer be prosecuting marijuana possession alone, that was an announcement that did not find its way to our District Court supervisors, so it did not find its way to the District Court [prosecutors] who had cases in court that day,” one former prosecutor said.

Mostly, current and former assistant state’s attorneys feel overburdened by ever-rising caseloads — a felony prosecutor could have more than 125 cases at any given time. That’s a caseload the president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys described as “crushing” in a previous interview with The Sun, saying prosecutors with so many cases are “working in triage.”

Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Zy Richardson declined to address most of the issues raised by former and current prosecutors in this article, instead issuing a statement late Sunday.

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The statement cited the challenges of running a prosecutor’s office through a tumultuous seven years in Baltimore, including the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force scandal and the coronavirus pandemic, which closed courts and created a case backlog. She touted the office’s conviction rate, and said Mosby’s office is “committed to our role of ensuring accountability in the courtroom and doing the hard but necessary work to ensure justice for every single victim of crime in this city.”


One current felony prosecutor, who the administration asked to speak to The Sun about positive aspects of working there on the condition of anonymity, said the work was rewarding, but that it was “almost impossible” at times to meet the demands.

Some defense attorneys expressed frustration with how unprepared or inexperienced many prosecutors seem.

“You cannot have an absent piece of the criminal justice system, and when you’re down catastrophic levels, you can’t function like that,” said defense attorney and former prosecutor Andrew I. Alperstein.

“Forget about the politics,” said Alperstein, calling for “urgent action” such as bringing in prosecutors from other jurisdictions or specially designating lawyers to prosecute cases.

Mosby, however, disagreed. At a news conference Friday, touting several recent convictions, she was asked whether the staffing levels were affecting the office’s performance.

“Not at all,” Mosby said.