Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's contention that she can fire prosecutors for their past support of political rivals raises a host of questions — among them whether assistant state's attorneys (ASAs) should be considered Ms. Mosby's "alter egos" or rank-and-file workers, and where she draws the line in requiring like-minded thinking. But the most important one may be why Baltimore prosecutors at that level are "at will" employees in the first place, without the basic job security given to many other city employees.

Overworked prosecutors are often handling dozens — if not hundreds — of cases at any given time. They've developed relationships with victims, researched defendants and studied facts. When you throw them out the door, their expertise goes too, and the cases have to be reassigned — a delay that's more than just tedious; it borders on unjust. Look at what happened a year ago after Ms. Mosby took office and Baltimore ASAs were fired without notice or cause: One prosecutor was cut mid trial, another left behind 130 active cases, and at least one circuit court judge held a hearing to decide if the regime change violated a defendant's right to a speedy trial. A little job security — at least knowing you can't be fired without good reason — would also go a long way for employee morale and retention in an office that's already stretched thin.


The issue of Ms. Mosby firing employees specifically for their political views — generally considered protected speech — was raised by Keri Borzilleri, a former city ASA who filed a federal lawsuit last month claiming she was terminated for supporting Ms. Mosby's predecessor, Gregg Bernstein, during the 2014 election. Ms. Mosby responded in a court filing this month that the 120 or so Baltimore ASAs are office "policymakers" and her "alter egos" and therefore must share her politics to carry out their jobs. (Other courts have ruled that policymakers are essentially extensions of the office holder and can be fired for politics related to their work in certain situations, despite their First Amendment free speech protections.)

But we think they're more like assistant U.S. attorneys or even police, who carry out the policies of their superiors in their work and can only be fired for cause. Ms. Mosby's court filing seems to back that up: It points to Ms. Borzilleri's roles making criminal charging decisions (much as police decide whom to arrest), acting as a liaison between the office and the community (again, see police) and helping to investigate, prosecute and serve Baltimore (police, police, police).

Deputies and division chiefs within the state's attorney's office — those who oversee others and directly collaborate with Ms. Mosby to set office policy — would seem a better examples of her "alter egos." And it's fairly routine for such cabinet-level positions to be emptied and refilled by incoming elected officials. The rank and file? Not so much.

Baltimore's charter considers most city employees, except for those subject to a handful of exemptions, civil servants who can only be fired, penalized or demoted for just cause — not "because of political opinions or affiliations, or refusing to render any political service." Those protections should be extended to Baltimore ASAs, who are city employees representing the interests of the state. ASAs in other jurisdictions should get the same protections.

We would also like to point out that past state's attorneys have managed with their predecessors' staffs. When Gregg Bernstein challenged Patricia Jessamy in 2010, much of the Baltimore state's attorney's office was on her side, and many openly campaigned for her. She'd been the city's top prosecutor for 15 years, and it seemed unlikely that a political unknown could take her down.

Then he did, and panic set in among ASAs. It's true that there was significant turnover during Mr. Bernstein's first year in office (51 people left, and 42 were brought in), but he also kept on employees who publicly supported Ms. Jessamy — and even gave some of them key positions.

Staci Pipkin, a former state's attorney now in private practice, appeared in a TV ad for Ms. Jessamy's re-election campaign, yet Mr. Bernstein eventually assigned her to his prestigious Major Investigations Unit. And Tony Savage, who had been a community coordinator under Ms. Jessamy, was reassigned after that program was cut, to Mr. Bernstein's communications and community relations office.

One ASA Mr. Bernstein didn't fire but may wish he had? Marilyn Mosby.