Pair of prosecutors quit amid tensions Two said to be unhappy with boss' management style

February 15, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Two Howard County prosecutors have resigned amid increasing tensions in the state's attorney's office under Marna McLendon, who brought sweeping changes when she took over 14 months ago.

Several courthouse sources say some prosecutors in the office have been unhappy over Ms. McLendon's management style.

Ms. McLendon acknowledges some tensions, but added she's confident that her attorneys believe the office is working well under her leadership.

"Change can be uncomfortable for people, because you're taking risks," she said.

The resignation Friday of Kathi L. Hill, a top litigator in the office's Circuit Court division and leader of a team of prosecutors, represents a major blow to the office. Ms. McLendon recruited Ms. Hill shortly after being elected as Howard state's attorney.

Also resigning Friday was Timothy S. Mitchell, a four-year veteran of the office's District Division. Both prosecutors plan to leave next month.

Ms. McLendon described both departures as amicable, but acknowledged that she and Ms. Hill did have some problems. "There were some experiences that were difficult for her," Ms. McLendon said, declining to comment further.

Ms. Hill declined to discuss any problems, saying only that she was leaving to go into private practice with a longtime associate in Westminster.

She was recruited to come to Howard County after resigning from the Carroll County state's attorney's office in late 1994. "I'm thankful for that," she said. "I think Marna has a lot of great ideas."

As a team leader in the office's Circuit Court division, Ms. Hill oversaw two other assistant state's attorneys handling criminal dockets. She was the lead prosecutor in the murder trial of Daniel Scott Harney, convicted last August of killing his estranged wife and shooting her boyfriend in Ellicott City.

Mr. Mitchell said he was leaving to join a Baltimore law firm, where he will defend insurance companies in civil cases. "I wanted a change," Mr. Mitchell said. "I'm looking to broaden my horizons."

Ms. McLendon is a former police officer and has worked as a Howard County prosecutor and an assistant county solicitor before she was elected state's attorney in 1994.

Courthouse sources say that the two prosecutors who resigned -- and some others who remain -- have been unhappy with Ms. McLendon's management style and disappointed over their own treatment. In particular, the sources say, Mr. Mitchell was frustrated by not being promoted to the Circuit Court division.

And although Ms. Hill had a high-profile role, they say, Ms. McLendon failed to support her at times.

Police once complained about Ms. Hill taking a deposition from a hospitalized officer, and Ms. McLendon then allegedly sided with the officers, the sources say.

Joseph Murtha, a former prosecutor who left the state's attorney's office last year, said Ms. Hill was a "dedicated prosecutor, well respected."

"It is sort of curious why she would leave," said Mr. Murtha, who said he enjoyed a good working relationship with Ms. McLendon before leaving last October for a Baltimore law firm.

A Republican, Ms. McLendon replaced Democrat William Hymes, who ran the office for 16 years before retiring. Upon taking office, she asked for the resignations of six lawyers, put others on probation and instituted major administrative changes.

In her 14 months, she said, her office has stated a "clearly articulated policy" for its lawyers and has been working to take more cases to trial rather than settle for plea bargains.

Ms. McLendon said the two departures will hurt the office. "Kathi's a loss and Tim is, too," she said, adding that the loss of two veterans will be filled by young prosecutors who have gained experience over the past year.

Les Gross, the deputy state's attorney, said Ms. McLendon would seek advice from him and assistant state's attorneys in replacing the two prosecutors and choosing someone to replace Ms. Hill as one of the Circuit Division's three team leaders.

"We'll miss her, but we'll be fine," said Mary V. Murphy, another Circuit Court division team leader. "She always brings a happy smile to the office, but I think this is a good move for her."

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