1. Archive

Handpicked staff joins incoming state attorney

When he takes office next week, incoming Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober will bring with him some experienced hands.

Ober said Friday that Curt Morgan, now a prosecutor in Polk County, will return to Tampa as chief of a criminal felony division,overseeing prosecutors in one of seven felony criminal courtrooms.

"I am proud to have him back," Ober said.

Morgan, a former Marine known for his weight-lifting and long-distance running, was once second-in-command of the Hillsborough State Attorney's office. He was investigated by a federal grand jury last year on allegations of evidence tampering in a 1997 murder trial. The U.S. Attorney's office took the unusual step of announcing that it would not file charges against Morgan.

"When I say he is coming back, I get nothing but smiles," said Ober, adding that Morgan did nothing wrong in the murder case that was investigated.

Ober is continuing to talk to former homicide prosecutor Mike Benito, once called "Boom Boom" for his passionate pleas during death penalty trials, about returning.

Ober had lunch this week with Benito, who is now in private practice. One of the issues they talked about was money.

"I have to see if it's feasible," Benito said.

Ober, who already has let go several aides who had been close to the late State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, will not retain James Strickland, the office's executive director under Coe. The decision was part of his effort to find a "new direction" for the office, Ober said.

He is also searching for a professionally trained human resource director to replace Deanna Easterling, a personal friend of Coe.

Ober said that he will keep many of the rank-and-file prosecutors who served the office under Coe. Wayne Chalu, who was chief assistant state attorney under Coe, will stay on as a felony division chief. Other top prosecutors, including Chris Watson, Shirley Williams, Jay Pruner and Chris Moody, will keep their jobs. Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi will remain the office's spokeswoman.

_ Times Staff Writer David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or