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Baltimore prosecutors: Overworked and underpaid | COMMENTARY

Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, right, speaks during a news conference on May 26, 2021 to announce the expansion of Project EXILE firearms prosecution initiative targeting gun violence in Baltimore as then-acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner looks on. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).
Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, right, speaks during a news conference on May 26, 2021 to announce the expansion of Project EXILE firearms prosecution initiative targeting gun violence in Baltimore as then-acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner looks on. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun). (Kenneth K. Lam)

There are likely a number of reasons for so many of Baltimore’s assistant state’s attorneys — the workhorses of the criminal prosecutor’s office — to have resigned in recent years. The heavy workload that would have these lawyers at their desks late at night and over weekends; the “greener pastures” of private practice or a suburban prosecutors’ office, where there are fewer felonies to take to court; a COVID-19 pandemic that has increased early retirement from all sorts of high-pressure jobs across this country. All have likely played a role. And, yes, their boss, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, may be a factor driving these choices as well. She’s proved a polarizing figure and is currently under federal investigation over her financial dealings; since she was first elected to the post in 2014, staff turnover in the office has been high.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the loss of experienced lawyers is not sustainable. According to a recent review, there are now just 164 assistant state’s attorneys working in Baltimore compared to 217 three years ago; that’s 53 fewer prosecutors, a nearly one-quarter loss. Yet crime marches on. The number of homicides in Baltimore has surpassed 300 for six years in a row and is expected to chalk up a seventh soon. Baltimore has at least one advantage when it comes to hiring prosecutors: There’s no shortage of meaningful, high-profile work to be done. It’s a place where those who aspire to put criminals in jail can learn their trade. The same might be said of police officers recruited to patrol city neighborhoods (the police department also has vacancies), or paramedics and emergency room residents trying to save the lives of shooting victims (empty positions can be found here, too) as well as public schoolteachers (vacancies, as well), who often face daunting challenges educating young people living with the trauma of gun violence. Such individuals deserve the public’s support in their essential work.

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That’s why it makes sense to raise salaries to retain the best and brightest. Just as Baltimore’s K-12 public schools need to attract the high-quality teachers — and pay them appropriately thanks, in part, to Kirwan Commission-inspired reforms — the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office ought to offer its lawyers top wages, too. It does not today. That’s a point Ms. Mosby is making as she seeks to boost collective wages by at least $600,000 under a retention plan developed by her recently retired chief deputy. Whether this will prove adequate is another matter. This isn’t about who currently occupies the top spot. Whomever serves as Baltimore’s to prosecutor ought to be able to pay the staff a competitive salary.

But we would go further. Addressing gun violence in Baltimore is not just an issue for Ms. Mosby or Mayor Brandon Scott or members of the Baltimore City Council or Police Commissioner Michael Harrison alone. This is a crisis that should be of state concern, and it ought to be on the national radar.

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There is little reason why Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Erek L. Barron, the recently confirmed U.S. Attorney for Maryland, can’t train additional resources of their own at addressing the problem. Two years ago, Ms. Mosby criticized Governor Hogan’s efforts to beef up Mr. Frosh’s office, so that it might make more prosecutorial forays into drug and gun crime in the city. The governor took this action without consulting Ms. Mosby, and the plan eventually fell through. But the city state’s attorney also has expressed a willingness to work with others, informing Mr. Hogan in a Sept. 19, 2019, letter, for example, that getting state help to take guns off the street and sharing intelligence about criminal activities would be welcome. Can there not be common ground? Clearly not on everything related to criminal justice and not unilaterally: The governor is an advocate of mandatory sentencing and Ms. Mosby is more attuned to the harm that the nation’s “war on drugs” has wrought on cities like Baltimore, but they ought to at least be talking.

Under these dire circumstances it is not too much to expect adequate resources to be available for both crime prevention and for locking up violent offenders. And with those dollars ought to come basic cooperation at the local, state and federal level. Anything less reflects poorly on all involved.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.

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