A report by the Manhattan Institute released early this year described the impact of progressive new criminal procedure rules for prosecutors in New York State. Burdensome, mandatory compliance requirements in the new rules created “a staffing and functioning crisis in prosecutors’ offices,” as assistant district attorneys decided “that a job with so much clerical drudgery and so little gratification is not worth the low pay and long hours. Between spring 2021 and spring 2022 alone, Manhattan and Brooklyn each lost about a fifth of their prosecutors—a trend that has continued in the six months since.” Across the entire state, “numerous DAs [district attorneys] report record 40% attrition rates and unfillable vacancies.”
A Cook County, Ill. prosecutor who quit after 20 years as a felony trial attorney also blames progressive political agendas. The man’s farewell email to co-workers explains that while he “felt truly honored to work with such an incredible group of people,” policies that enabled and encouraged criminals and endangered his own family were the reason he couldn’t stay.
The “simple fact is that this State and County have set themselves on a course to disaster. And the worst part is that the agency for [which] I work has backed literally every policy change that had the predicable, and predicted, outcome of more crime and more people getting hurt.” These policies, he writes, include bond reforms that kept defendants out of jail pending trial, “shorter parole periods, lower sentences for repeat offenders, the malicious and unnecessary prosecution of law enforcement officers, overuse of diversion programs, [and] intentionally not pursuing prosecutions for crimes lawfully on the books.”
“[W]e live in a society with adversarial court and criminal justice processes,” where each side – the defense and the prosecution – act as advocates, respectively, for the defendant, and crime victims and the public order. “Once we start doing too much of the defense’s job, once we pull our punches, once we decide that it’s worth risking citizens’ lives to have a little social experiment,” the balance between protecting rights and preserving order and safety is lost. The result is less safety and increased crime. “And then they wonder why they cannot retain experienced prosecutors or even hire new ones…it’s because any true prosecutor recognizes the importance of this balance, and that they will not be permitted to be a prosecutor under this administration.”
He is leaving his home state of Illinois, he writes, as “my own employer has turned it into a place from which I am no longer proud to be, and in which my son is not safe.”
In Missouri, State Attorney General Andrew Bailey initiated legal proceedings earlier this year to remove Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, the chief prosecuting attorney for St. Louis, alleging she had “knowingly and willfully failed to do her duties as a prosecutor.”
Gardner, a Soros-supported Democrat, described on her reelection campaign website how she “took over an office primarily focused on charges, cases, and convictions. It was an office that adhered to the ‘tough-on-crime’ mantra, which led to skyrocketing incarceration but not to any crime reduction. Through vision, hard work, and grit, Kim has transformed that office…”
Gardner has since announced she is resigning, but it’s interesting to inquire what her “transformation” accomplished.
The 121-page court petition alleges that after being elected, Gardner “‘reached out’ to the Vera Institute for ‘assistance’ in ‘transforming’ her office.” The Vera Institute supports “prosecuting attorneys that it identifies as ‘Reform Prosecutors.’” Based on the Institute’s recommendations, Gardner allegedly dismissed approximately 25,000 pending criminal cases and, going forward, “arbitrarily appl[ied] the wrong standard of proof in making her charging decisions,” including in cases “where she has reason to believe that a crime has been committed.”
The petition further alleges that Gardner caused “turnover of [assistant circuit attorneys] in record numbers,” with “at least 85 assistant circuit attorneys” resigning or being fired in a three-year period, representing “an extraordinary level of turnover caused by the toxic and dysfunctional work environment.” Another source indicates that “Gardner came into an office with about 60 attorneys. Just one year after Gardner took over, … the 32nd staff member” had left; now, “[a]fter six years of dysfunction, only about 20 attorneys remain in the circuit attorney’s office.” An April news report stated that there were only two “remaining prosecutors currently handling cases” in the office, with one defense attorney saying, “It’s literally like working at a dumpster fire.”
To be fair, these allegations suggest that the turnover may have had more to do with exceptionally poor management than Gardner’s progressive bent. Even so, for the residents of St. Louis the ultimate result of Gardner’s tenure appears to be a public safety train wreck. The petition describes an eight-month or so backlog of unprocessed warrant applications; a further 2,735 criminal cases dismissed by the courts, mostly due to a “failure to prosecute, [Gardner’s] failure to comply with speedy-trial requirements, or her failure to comply with discovery obligations,” and a “sharp decline [in] the number of felony and misdemeanor prosecutions,” even as St. Louis “consistently ranked among the nation’s most dangerous cities.”
It remains to be seen whether this state of disarray in prosecutors’ offices will continue to play out across the country. Who wins when the demand for law enforcement exceeds capacity isn’t the ordinary responsible citizen, but the criminal class: less arrests and prosecutions, of course, mean less consequences for lawlessness.