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Flavor of the day: Rocky Road

The legal drama surrounding the Monroe County State Attorney's Office this week has taken place outside the courtroom.

In the wake of Tuesday's election that saw challenger Dennis Ward defeat two-term prosecutor Mark Kohl, relations between the two camps remain rocky -- and that's being kind.

"There are so many rumors being spread out there, it's almost become a hoot," Kohl said. "It appears the negative campaigning has not ended."

"There are people who seem to be trying to make this transition difficult," Kohl said. "I'm not saying it's Dennis."

After taking leave time to campaign, the Republican Kohl returned to work Friday. He remains in office until Jan. 5. The Democrat Ward officially begins his four-year term Jan. 6.

Kohl scoffed at reports that he would remain on leave through the end of his term.

"I'm here. I just want to keep the system working," he said. "That's what I said I would do when I first was elected as state attorney, and I'm going to go out doing it."

Catherine Vogel, one of Kohl's two chief deputies, reportedly has left the State Attorney's Office, using her remaining leave until January. She couldn't be reached at press time.

Kohl said he asked Vogel to speak with Ward about helping with the transition. A Thursday parking-lot conversation between Ward and Vogel didn't go well.

Ward summarized it: "I said all during the campaign that I planned to cut down on the top-heavy salaries, and I intend to do it."

He said he didn't plan to retain Vogel or Kohl's other deputy assistant, J. Jefferson Overby.

Ward said he has made only one managerial hiring decision, to bring former Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne back to head the Upper Keys prosecutor's office.

"I'm not the state attorney yet," Ward said. "I still have a job to do [as an assistant public defender]. I was back in court at 8:30 a.m. the day after the election."

Ward said he would begin focusing on the State Attorney's Office after he steps down from the Public Defender's Office, probably in early December.

"I'm the state attorney-elect, not the state attorney," he said. "I haven't been in the [State Attorney's Office] since the election. First I need to be invited, and that hasn't happened yet."

Kohl said, "I just want to accomplish a smooth transition. If that will happen or not, I don't know, but it's my ambition."

No other staffers have submitted resignations, Kohl said, "except the people who told me before the election they were leaving."

Kohl said he plans to go into private practice.

Like Ward, Dunne previously worked as an assistant state attorney under Kohl.

She left in 2003 after three years. Following a stint with the local Public Defender's Office, she has been in private practice as a criminal defense attorney in Miami.

"I'm absolutely coming back," Dunne said Friday. "I'm so excited, it's like a dream come true."

"It was heartbreaking to leave and the chance to come back is just amazing," she said. "I've always loved working with the people and law-enforcement officers in the Upper Keys."

She said, "I've kept in close touch and watched what's going on down there. I still have some cases in the Keys, so I'm still involved with some of the issues. It's thrilling to have the opportunity to get in there and work on them."

The Monroe County State Attorney's Office has 18 assistant state attorney positions: 11 in Key West, three in Marathon and four in the Upper Keys.

In total the office has a staff, including investigators and administrative staff, of 58. The annual budget is around $4.5 million.