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Damage from the trio's departure will be exacerbated by heavy turnover. A recent study shows that, annually, nearly one in every four attorneys in Miami-Dade's office leaves for another job. "You've got young lawyers who can't devote the time they need to their cases; things are going to happen. We hope they don't. But they just don't have the personnel," Waksman says.
Michael Von Zamft, a prosecutor in the office since 1995, says residents should worry about losing top talent at the same time felonies are likely to skyrocket amid an economic implosion. "Unfortunately, with the economy, you have to assume crime is going to go back up. We're going to fight the same fight we did five years ago with less people to do it," he says.
When Laeser, Waksman, and Gilbert depart within the next year, the State Attorney's Office will be left with eight senior prosecutors handling its most serious felonies. The group is experienced, but it's tough to overstate the veterans' record. Laeser has lost only six cases in 35 years — and none since the Alvarez verdict; he estimates the state hasn't failed in a major capital case in 15 years. Waksman plays coy when asked how many men he has sent to death row: "It would be unethical for me to keep count. But I've been told if they were all on a basketball court, they could play a full-court game."
Adds Laeser: "I think the budget is having a terrible impact on the office. I hate to make a sports analogy, but you can't trade the Yankees infield, pick up a lot of guys from AA, and expect next year's team to be the same."