Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Molly Zappitell, chief of the Child Protection Unit, speaks to a jury last year. MACOMB DAILY FILE PHOTO
Another veteran Macomb County prosecutor is leaving the office, this time for a position with another county office.
Molly Zappitell, chief of the child protection unit, is leaving the county prosecutor’s office after 25 years to serve as an assistant corporate attorney for the county, moving from criminal to civil work. Her last day as an assistant district attorney was Friday, and she starts Monday as county attorney.
Zappitell, 55, who has prosecuted hundreds of rapists, many of them child predators, and other criminals, said it was time to make a change. She participated in the county’s deferred retirement program last year. Zappitell will continue to work, but has begun receiving pension payments that go into a fund she will collect when she retires within five years.
“I felt it was time to pass the torch to another prosecutor,” Zappitell said. “It’s hard to go and leave my files and all the children (victims) I represent. It was very difficult, but in the long run the right decision.”
Zappitell is the 14th person to leave the office since Attorney General Peter Lucido took over in January 2021 following his election in 2020.
Lucido attributed the departures to assistant prosecutors pursuing other interests, “entering another dimension of their careers” and the DROP.
“They fall and they get another job and make more money and have greater opportunities or a change of scenery,” he said. “Corporation Counsel is a wonderful opportunity for her, and you only get these opportunities knocking so often. Molly will be missed.”
She said she had potential jobs with two or three other entities, including an offer to work in the state Attorney General’s Office.
Stephanie Stager, who has been with the six-lawyer CPU for some time, has been named the new chief.
Zappitell, who graduated from Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights and lives in Macomb County, was hired by former prosecutor Carl Marlinga in 1998. She served in the sexual abuse/child protection division from about 2002 to 2011, serving seven years in two circuits . courtrooms and in 2018 returned to the chief post of the CPU. The CPU handles all cases of sexual assault and crimes against children, as well as adult rape cases.
She said she could not name a single case in her long career as a highlight, but that she is proud of her record, losing only two court cases of more than 100 over the 25 years and only one criminal case of sexual behavior.
“I have a lot of highlights locking up a lot of very bad guys,” she said. “I have developed a lot of good professional relationships with judges, lawyers in the community and the local communities,” she adds, having been involved in community groups.
She can only speculate why there has been an increase in child abuse cases since the begging of the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend that has not reversed despite the pandemic’s abatement.
“I don’t know if a lot of people are just angry or what,” she said.
In her new position, Zappitell will receive a raise, going from $111,000 to $126,000, but she said the pay increase was not a factor in her decision.
Zappitell’s position at Corporation Counsel is an additional position County Attorney John Schapka added to the 2023 budget due to an increasing workload in his office.
“Molly was hired to fill the newly funded position and will take over our FOIA and subpoena response functions as well as assist with our real estate, bankruptcy and probate responsibilities,” Schapka said in an email.
The addition would have increased Schapka’s legal staff to six. However, attorney Linda Pente, who joined the office last year to work on legal issues with Macomb County Community Mental Health, left earlier this month to return to her former employer, Wayne County, Schapka said. The position is posted on the municipality’s website.
“After I lured Linda Pente away from Wayne County, Wayne County lured her back,” he said.
Meanwhile, turnover among assistant prosecutors, especially highly experienced, skilled attorneys, since Lucido took over after his election in 2020 exceeds 16%, with 11 attorneys leaving a staff of 67. Other employees have also left. The office employs 127 employees.
A 2022 report by the Butzel Long law firm commissioned by County Executive Mark Hackel based on remarks from 16 employees accused Lucido of inappropriate workplace behavior, including sexist remarks about women and using race as a factor in appointing an assistant prosecutor and
Most recently, prior to Zappitell, Johanna Delp left in February as the victim’s advocate coordinator for a similar position in the state attorney’s office.
Others to leave include:
• Former Assistant Prosecutor and Lead Trial Attorney Jean Cloud left to serve as Deputy Court Administrator in Macomb Circuit Court.
• Former Assistant Prosecutor and Juvenile Unit Chief John Ange went to the Macomb Public Defenders’ Office as an administrator. Ange left that office earlier this month to work as an assistant prosecutor in the Oakland County Juvenile Division.
• Former Assistant Prosecutor John Gemellaro left to serve as in-house counsel for the Michigan State Police.
• Former Assistant Prosecutors Eric Sterbis and Phillip Jacques went to the state attorney’s office.
• Former Assistant District Attorney Darra Slanec, chief of the domestic violence division, was hired as a court administrator at the 42-I District Court in Romeo.
• Former Assistant Prosecutor Gretchen Meisel, who headed the warrants division, moved to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.
• Former Assistant Prosecutor Jordan Fields went into private practice.
• Former Assistant Prosecutor William Harding retired.
• Former assistant prosecutor Joshua Van Laan was fired at the end of last year, and then sued Lucido.
• Office Manager Jen Meech, Public Relations Director Jennifer Putney and Administrative Coordinator Lisa Piccinini left for other jobs in county government.