This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Call it a brain drain, or an experience exodus.
Fifteen attorneys have resigned from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office since Lohra Miller took office in January.
Longtime observers say it's the biggest post-election turnover - 17 percent of the 88-attorney office - in recent years.
A handful of those who resigned cited a lack of leadership by Miller, favoritism and troubling changes in policy. Several others said Miller's style was not a factor and that they left for more money, shorter hours and more flexibility.
But because 10 who left were felony prosecutors with an average of about six years at the office, their departure has caused a stir in the legal community.
"Any time a major prosecuting agency loses the number of attorneys they are, it's a matter of concern," said Salt Lake City defense attorney Stephen McCaughey. "And it's the experienced prosecutors that are going. They know what they're doing, they do the most important cases and they provide leadership in the office."
Miller said she is not alarmed by the resignations and called the office a training ground for attorneys who often move on after spending five to seven years in the trenches. The 10 criminal prosecutors have been replaced by 12 new hires, she said. Three of them have experience prosecuting felony cases.
Miller said her detractors include people who supported her election opponent, Simargit Gill, and who are still harboring political resentments.
"The fact we have some disgruntled workers, who leave and then cast aspersions on the office, minimizes what these dedicated prosecutors do on a daily basis," Miller said. "No doubt, the office is better off without that kind of negativity."
A handful of former prosecutors and one who still works at the D.A.'s office all cited similar concerns with changes implemented by Miller - including her dissolution of the plea agreement review committee (PARC), which brought together 20 prosecutors weekly to vote on proposed plea deals involving high-profile cases, homicides and first-degree felonies. Miller's critics asked not to be named as they continue to work at the D.A.'s office or anticipate future dealings with Miller as part of their new jobs.
Miller said team leaders now decide plea deals, which streamlines the process.
Several critics also claimed Miller's refusal to plea-bargain any third-degree felony DUI cases has taken discretion from prosecutors. They said DUIs - which are enhanced to felonies by prior DUI convictions - are now being filed based on sometimes inaccurate rap sheets or driver license records, where the office used to require police to bring certified copies of prior convictions.
Miller said the new approach gets defendants before a judge more quickly, and prosecutors can more easily obtain certified copies of convictions than police.
"The intent is to speed up cases and get to court quicker, so they are easier to resolve," Miller said.
One former prosecutor countered that with no offer on the table, defendants are more likely to drag out cases because they have nothing to lose.
Another prosecutor complained that Miller has relaxed the standards for filing cases brought by police officers, who were major supporters of her election campaign. Lower standards can put cases at risk of being frowned upon by a judge, they said.
Miller responded her office is still turning away the same number of cases as they were the year before - 16 percent.
Miller also caused a stir in the office by promoting a friend to head a new domestic violence team. Miller said she offered the position to other team leaders, but no one wanted to do it.
Miller said Michaela Andruzzi was "a close friend," but that they had also worked together on domestic violence cases in West Jordan and share a similar "vision" about those cases.
Another friend of Miller's, Stu Smith, director of the Utah State Crime Lab, was hired to head her investigations unit.
"Stu is very highly respected in the state, and a leader in the criminal justice community," Miller said. "We actively sought Stu. I thought he'd be a great benefit to the office."
As for side-lining two veteran prosecutors from doing trials, she said one had been assigned to career development and training, while the other is in charge of "developing homicide procedures and mentoring."
"Their duties take into account their existing strengths," Miller said. "We needed to focus on training and how we brought new prosecutors into the office and how we prosecuted homicides."
According to another prosecutor still working in the office, Miller is energetic and always brimming with new ideas, but fails to appreciate the pressures under which her staff is laboring.
"The attorneys feel they have such a full plate, there is no time for new things, new programs, new responsibilities," the prosecutor said. "They want help with what they're already doing. And there's a feeling Lohra doesn't understand that."
Miller responded, "I've spent time in court observing. I've talked to prosecutors, I have an understanding of what is going on and what we need to do with the office."
Prosecutor Angela Micklos, who heads Miller's special victims unit, said she feels most of the changes in the office have been good ones.
Micklos also noted that Miller obtained raises for the office, and she has been trying to convince the County Council to provide funding to hire more attorneys.
A former city prosecutor, Miller has never prosecuted a felony case. It was a major issue during the election and continues to be raised by her critics as evidence she is unfit to run the office.
But Miller downplays the lack of felony experience by insisting: "This office is about administration."
She added: "The office is headed in a very positive direction. We will always have some imbalance, but we're reaching equilibrium . . . and our community will continue to be safe."
Of the 15 attorneys who have resigned from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office:
* one retired
* one will be prosecuting for a neighboring county
* three are defense attorneys
* two joined the U.S. Attorney's Office
* one joined the Utah Attorney General's Office
* three joined civil law firms
* one is working for the Salt Lake Police Department
* the status of three others was not immediately known