Overwhelmed prosecutors quitting ‘in tears’ amid staffing crisis, NYC district attorneys say

Underpaid prosecutors overwhelmed by a mammoth backlog of cases are quitting in droves when their work is needed more than ever, the city’s district attorneys told the City Council on Friday.

“Former staffers cited the responsibilities of discovery, managing the backlog of cases, and increased night and weekend shifts among the reasons why they leave,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark told the council’s Public Safety Committee at a virtual budget hearing.

“People are in tears when they leave because they love the work they do for the Bronx community, but the job is now overwhelming.”

Clark said 104 attorneys and 90 professional staff had quit her office by the end of February, surpassing the 96 attorneys and 51 professional staff who left in all of 2021.

Clark said the departures come as the Bronx DA faces 1,270 open gun cases.

“Gun violence is a blight on the Bronx that highlights a need for resources,” Clark said. “We must save a generation of boys and young men, predominantly of color, from death and prison.”

Staten Island DA Michael McMahon said staff retention and recruitment had similarly reached a “crisis level” in his office. He told the council he’s losing skilled employees to higher paid positions at the New York Police Department and the state Office of Court Administration, who offer them “a much more manageable workload, and therefore, a much more amenable lifestyle.”

The New York Daily News previously reported that reforms of rules regarding handling of evidence — known as discovery reform — have dramatically changed prosecutors’ jobs. The reforms, implemented in 2020, require prosecutors to disclose a wide range of evidence earlier in the trial process. Cases can be tossed if evidence is not handed over within certain deadlines.

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg told the council he needs more funding to investigate hate crimes, which he said saw a staggering 160% spike last year.

“We have more active cases than we have had at any other time,” said Bragg. “We need more investigators. We in particular want to deepen our language competencies — and we need more lawyers.”

Queens DA Melinda Katz said her $82.2 million operating budget in 2021 came out to the least amount of money per resident and arrest compared to the other boroughs.

The preliminary budget for city prosecutors for the upcoming fiscal year is $458.9 million, down from $488.5 million in the current fiscal year.