Changes in prosecutor's office
County, after word reached us at The Oakland Press that Prosecutor-
elect Jessica Cooper has ordered all staff to refrain from talking to
the media about their cases.
All media contacts must go through the top dog in the office, Cooper,
a one-time circuit judge in Oakland County who moved onto the Court
of Appeals before stepping down into partisan politics.
Outgoing Prosecutor David Gorcyca had his critics, mostly for a
stubborn streak he carried in how he handled his cases. But I always
admired that he trusted his staff, which consists of some of the best
criminal attorneys in the area. Prosecutors were able to speak openly
about their cases, describing facts that were already on the record
and helping reporters with schedule changes and issues related to
when something would occur.
We write many stories about crimes in Oakland County, and when
questions arise as to why specific charges were filed (or amended or
dismissed), it's good to be able to speak to the person who knows the
Now, even Gorcyca preferred to be the one talking about major cases,
where controversy lurked. That is natural; let the leader handle the
controversies. Cooper is walking into one, as a 16-year-old boy faces
charges of murder in the shooting death of an Oak Park police
officer. The elected leaders should be the ones in the spotlight for
those questions. But the prosecutor's office handles thousands of
cases each year, most of them minor and rarely making their way to
the top floor.
In telling stories related to these cases, we require details and
accuracy, and when I covered courts, I achieved that by having my
questions answered by the people who know the cases.
An assistant prosecutor can answer why a plea was negotiated, when
the straight from-the-courtroom facts may make it look like they
weren't being tough on crime. An assistant can also put a case into
During a trial, an assistant prosecutor can answer questions about an
attack a defense attorney makes on a witness, evidence or the police.
Now all these specifics must be answered by Cooper, who will know
only the basics and not be able to address specific questions without
calling the assistant to ask. That means more work for the assistant
and less details for the public.
It also opens up the office to more criticism, as defense attorneys
or families of defendants can take shots at the prosecutors with a
good chance of no reaction by the prosecutors. If Cooper returns a
call the next day, there's the possibility the story has already run.
There also is a sense that Cooper lacks confidence in the office she
will run. Furthermore, this mandate brings a veil of secrecy over
what should be open and transparent, the prosecution of crimes by a
public tax-funded agency.
Let's hope it's a short-term change from what was once one of the
most open offices in the county.
They are going through enough changes already, as a dozen prosecutors
have been reportedly relieved of their duties by Cooper.