More than 20 percent of federal prosecutors in San Diego have left in the last year, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The departure of 27 of 122 assistant U.S. attorneys doubles the turnover rate in an office known for retaining career prosecutors. The attorneys cite several reasons, including an unaffordable housing market and a Justice Department rule that limits their plea-bargaining powers.
U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who assumed the post in September 2002, is concerned about the turnover but believes prosecutors are leaving for personal and professional reasons that have nothing to do with how the office is being run.
Three veteran prosecutors accepted judicial posts, and others took jobs at private law firms. Many of them said they enjoyed working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but couldn’t resist prestigious job offers.
Law enforcement officers say a drop in the number of prosecutors can mean a decrease in criminal cases. Michael Vigil, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Diego office, said fewer drug cases were being prosecuted. He is referring more cases to the county prosecutor, which may result in lower sentences.
The Union-Tribune says prosecutors can become disillusioned by starting salaries that can be as low as $67,000, while peers at tony law firms earn triple that. “Don’t get me wrong; I love San Diego,” said Mark Inciong, who went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas after five years in San Diego. “But I couldn’t buy a house.”