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Veteran ADAs Exiting Phila. Prosecutors Office, Sources Say

[caption id="attachment_6470" align="alignnone" width="558"] Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by Fotolia[/caption] Over the past few weeks several seasoned assistant district attorneys have either resigned from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, or have announced plans to leave, according to multiple sources familiar with the office. Since the beginning of March, at least nine prosecutors have decided to part ways with the office, several sources have told The Legal. The departures include the former chief of the northwest bureau, a homicide prosecutor who recently won a conviction against a man who shot a city police officer, and an assistant chief at the office's special investigations unit. The departures come amid wide-ranging changes at the office. Although only one of the attorneys contacted agreed to speak for this story, several sources familiar with the situation said many are frustrated by the new practices within the office, and that, ever since District Attorney Larry Krasner asked 31 attorneys to resign during his first week in office, many seasoned prosecutors are fearful they will be asked to leave if they speak out about their concerns. According to several sources, the attorneys who have recently left the office are Vincent Regan, who had been the chief of the northwest bureau; homicide prosecutor Allison Borgatti; Marian Braccia, who was recently made head of the office's information technology; Michael Bonner, assistant chief with the special investigations unit; Kristen Kemp, of the office's sex crimes unit; Kathryn Brown, who worked at the office for more than 10 years; Jason Harmon, who was a prosecutor for more than seven years; Emily Rodriguez, who has been at the office since August 2008; and Samuel Haaz, who has been an attorney since late 2012. The nine departing attorneys are not the only lawyers to have left the DA's office in recent months. In addition to the 31 attorneys who were let go in January, Ron Eisenberg, Brian Zarallo and Melissa Francis joined Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office, and Terri Domsky also joined the Philadelphia Controller's Office to head its special investigations and fraud unit. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office, however, said the departures are normal given the size of the office, and further noted that 14 attorneys have either recently been brought on, or are expected to join the office soon. "Yes people are leaving, but there are also people joining the office. That's a natural function," spokesman Ben Waxman said Monday. The new hires are set to fill positions across the board, including major trials, juvenile and the Municipal Court units, Waxman said. Krasner swept into office with 75 percent of the vote in November, on a platform promising criminal justice reforms and structural changes within the office. Since becoming the city's top prosecutor, he has taken several steps toward those goals, bringing in an attorney to advise on immigration-related issues, instructing prosecutors to factor the costs of incarceration into their sentencing recommendations and hiring two interim first assistants to head various parts of the office. Although his policy changes have gained national attention and attracted praise from progressive circles, several sources also said line prosecutors who worked for previous administrations are frustrated under the new administration. Sources said the cuts on Jan. 5 cast a pall over the office and have led many attorneys from the previous administration to worry about whether they would be asked to leave as well. Sources also said attorneys are facing increased workloads in the wake of the resignations, that top-level officials are increasingly involved in the plea deal and charging decisions, and that prosecutors who have been at the office for years are increasingly isolated, and afraid to voice their opinions about the changes that are underway. Several sources cited the office's handling of the case Commonwealth v. Morgan as an example of how line prosecutors are becoming frustrated under the new leadership. The case involves a security guard at a Germantown bar who shot and killed the bar's manager, according to court documents and news reports, including ABC Action News Philadelphia and CBS 3 Philadelphia. The defendant, Edward Morgan, faced charges of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime. Borgatti, who eventually resigned in mid-March, was assigned to handle the case. Borgatti began working as a prosecutor in October 2011 and, according to media reports, including Philly.com, in February she helped the office win an attempted murder and aggravated assault conviction against a man who allegedly invoked the terrorist organization ISIS before ambushing police officer Jesse Hartnett. According to the docket, the murder charge was initially dismissed against Morgan during proceedings before Municipal Court Judge Karen Simmons, but later reinstated after Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis began handling the case in March 2017. After Krasner became district attorney, the office decided to drop the third-degree murder charge in the lead-up to the trial. Dropping the charge, however, proved difficult. According to the transcript of a Feb. 16 hearing, Borgatti requested to drop the murder charge, saying "pursuant to the instructions provided to the commonwealth by my supervisor, Anthony Voci, and the District Attorney Larry Krasner, the commonwealth would move to nolle pros count 1 on the bills of information." Common Pleas Judge Sandy Byrd denied the request. During a subsequent hearing on Feb. 28, Voci, who Krasner brought in as the chief of the homicide unit in early January, appeared to once again request that the murder charge be dismissed. According to the transcript, Byrd quickly denied the request, saying, "I'm not going to give the imprimatur of the court and dismiss the charge before trial." After asking to explain the request further, Voci told the court the defendant had previously helped the office on another case, that Morgan "presumably ... had a license to carry because he had no significant criminal record," that "the victim was the aggressor in this physical confrontation," that Morgan had "employed ... all of the appropriate steps" before the confrontation turned deadly, and that, "immediately following the shooting, [Morgan] called 911." "I can tell your honor candidly that in the hundreds of cases that I've personally handled or reviewed as a homicide prosecutor, I can probably count on two hands the number of times that an individual committed a murder and remained on the scene and called 911 as this defendant did," Voci said, later adding, "He cooperated fully with the police in a written and videotape confession. It turned out to be 100 percent consistently accurate." Byrd, however, again denied the request, saying, "You may proceed on any charge you wish to proceed on. And the charges that you don't proceed on after the verdict would be subject to a nolle prosse, or you can withdraw prosecution, but I am not now having heard any evidence going to place the imprimatur of the court on your motion to nolle prosse." Following the proceedings, Borgatti was told she would be transferred to the charging unit, which is often handled by more junior-level prosecutors. Borgatti resigned days later. On March 29, the jury presiding over the case found Morgan not guilty. During an interview Monday attended by Archer attorney Jeffrey Kolansky, Borgatti said she did not agree with the nolle pros motion in the Morgan case, "as it was my belief that the nolle pros was contrary to the law and the evidence in the case." She also said she discussed her feelings with Voci. "I informed Anthony Voci that I disagreed with the decision," she said. "I said, 'But nevertheless you are my supervisor and I will do what I was instructed to do.'" When asked if she thought that transfer was punitive, and if that factored into her decision to leave, she said "yes." Borgatti said she is not looking to file a lawsuit against the office, and added that she continues to have "the greatest respect" for the office, saying it was "an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Philadelphia." "To the extent there are ADAs at the office who embody that mission, I wish them nothing but the best," she said. Regarding the Morgan case, Waxman said Voci made his decision based on the facts of the case. "This office is always going to look at the facts," he said. Waxman also said Borgatti's transfer to charging was meant to be temporary. According to Waxman, top officials at the office said they thought Borgatti had done an "outstanding" job previously, but an immediate need came up in the charging unit. He said Borgatti was not transferred off the Morgan case, and was still expected to handle the trial. "She was relatively new to homicide, and she didn't have that many cases," Waxman said. He added that both Vocci and the district attorney both said they thought highly of Borgatti, and that she had done an "outstanding job" on previous cases. When reached for comment at Mullen Coughlin, Regan said he could not immediately speak about the issue. Rodriguez and Kemp did not return messages left on their answering machines at the prosecutor's office. Haaz did not return a call for comment. Braccia and Bonner declined to comment. The Legal was unable to find contact information for Harmon. According to her LinkedIn profile, Brown began working as assistant general counsel at the School District of Philadelphia.  A spokesman for the district did not return a message seeking comment from Brown left Monday afternoon.

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