New Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon has forced six prosecutors to quit as of Jan. 8 and demoted two others in her first major staff change since she was elected last month.
Three other prosecutors were put on probation last week, and another three have resigned voluntarily from the 24-member office. Sue-Ellen Hantman, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive, has been hired to join the office.
Among those forced to resign was Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell, who was campaign treasurer for fellow prosecutor Michael Weal in his failed bid for the Democratic nomination for state's attorney.
Ms. O'Donnell, a 14-year veteran, tried major felony cases and handled the highly publicized case involving Sandra Craig, a day care operator accused of child abuse. Other prosecutors who were asked to resign also were active in the primary election campaign.
Ms. McLendon, a Republican, said politics did not come into play in her decisions. She declined to address specific resignations or demotions because they involve personnel issues. But she said she talked with each prosecutor for one to two hours before making her decisions.
"I also spoke with the judges, the public defenders, the clerks, the police -- I spoke with everybody," she said. "This is not a political move on my part, and I'm not going to make my decisions either on staff or other [matters] based on politics."
Those decisions were "based on my philosophy to have . . . tougher and more aggressive" prosecutors, she said.
Ms. O'Donnell, who has not yet made plans, said her forced resignation came as a surprise.
"I've been very proud of my 14 years there," she said yesterday. "I believe I was often assigned cases that, for one reason or another, were difficult to prove. I worked diligently, as far as I am concerned. I do want to thank everybody who has helped me in my career so far. It's been a privilege to serve."
Other prosecutors who have been asked to resign are: Bobbie Fine, who handled juvenile cases for five years; Shawn Larson, a three-year prosecutor who handled property cases; Robert Voss, six-year prosecutor who tried drug cases; and Gary Weissner, a district court prosecutor who has worked in the office since 1980.
Ms. McLendon declined to identify the sixth prosecutor who is being forced to resign.
Ms. Fine said she had planned to resign anyway, but that she expected to have time to train her replacement. District court prosecutor Bill Tucker has been picked to take her place.
"It was a curious staff change," Ms. Fine said. "There were some top-notch people in there who got awards or recognition in their areas who were not asked back or got put on probation. She never observed anybody. She never stepped into the courtroom."
Ms. McLendon said that to observe every prosecutor "would tie up my time and take months to make decisions. That doesn't make sense. I've probably talked with at least 20 other people who have observed them in the courtroom."
Among the other changes that have taken place in the office since Ms. McLendon was elected:
* Three prosecutors have resigned. Greg Smouse, who has been a district court prosecutor for two years, will enter private practice with his father. Circuit court prosecutor Tracy Gilmore, who has been with the office for five years, will leave to practice in Carroll County. And Daniel Vaccaro, who worked in the circuit court division for two years, will enter private practice.
* Mr. Weal, who was head of the district court division, has been moved to circuit court to prosecute cases. Senior circuit court prosecutor Christine Gage will take his place.
* Michael Rexroad will no longer be the head of the circuit court division. He has been assigned to one of three teams of prosecutors in circuit court. Ms. McLendon said there are no plans to fill his position.
Although Mr. Weal and Mr. Rexroad lost positions as department heads, Ms. McLendon wouldn't characterize the changes as demotions.
"They're accepting a change of assignment to strengthen our litigation staff," Ms. McLendon said. "They're coming in with a positive attitude in helping this office move forward."
One of the new attorneys, Ms. Hantman, a Democrat, had sought the nomination to run against Republican incumbent County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Ms. Hantman is a longtime friend of Ms. McLendon and in the 1980s worked in the county state's attorney's office handling juvenile matters. She will prosecute circuit court cases, Ms. McLendon said.
Other new prosecutors are: Kathi Hill, a senior Carroll County litigator who has 12 years of experience; Eileen McInerney, another Carroll County litigator with more than four years of experience; Sang Oh, who once was an intern with the county state's attorney's office and clerked for Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney; and Ann Singleton, a former assistant attorney general who did criminal appeal work and has been a hearing examiner.