It was not a typical Mother’s Day for Amy Devenny when her role as one of the top prosecutors in Mercer County required her to rush out to a murder scene at 3 in the morning.
It is not unusual for her to be called in when a major crime occurs. Luckily, she made it home by 7 a.m., before her two daughters realized she was gone.
Devenny’s friend and fellow top prosecutor Stephanie Katz can relate to the demands of the job, as they pursue justice prosecuting offenders for the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Both Robbinsville residents were promoted on May 1. Katz was named first assistant prosecutor, with Devenny assuming Katz’s prior position of deputy first assistant prosecutor.
“This office stands out from other counties in that there are many women at the top of the office,” Devenny says.
Head prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri was in charge of their recent promotions.
“I’ve been in the office for 23 years, and we’ve all come up through the ranks together,” he says.
As first assistant prosecutor, Katz does not have a typical day-to-day schedule. She oversees the office’s investigative units, so her work can vary from being called to a crime scene at any time, to handling meetings at the office, to observing court proceedings, to spending an entire day at her desk with phone calls and emails.
“The first assistant prosecutor is a critical pick for any county prosecutor because, in the prosecutor’s absence, it’s the first assistant who runs the day-to-day operations of the office,” Onofri says.
Katz has spent 11 years total in the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. After her first five years, she left to work for a private practice firm called McManimon and Scotland, handling public finance.
She returned in 2004, and has worked for many of the office’s units: Juvenile, Domestic Violence, Trial Team, Special Victims, Project Safe Neighborhoods, Homicide and Special Investigations. She has served as a trial team leader, chief of the PSN Unit, chief of the Domestic Violence unit and chief of the Special Investigations Unit.
“There’s great things about each unit and they have their own difficulties but for me, working with victims was always something I got a lot out of,” she says. “As gut wrenching as some of those cases can be, you really can make a difference.”
While serving as chief of special investigations Katz, along with assistant prosecutor John Boyle and Lt. Eric Hastings, prosecuted the only racketeering case handled by the MCPO in recent memory. As deputy first assistant prosecutor, Katz was instrumental in developing bail reform protocols and teaching the new process to the many police departments in Mercer County.
As deputy first assistant prosecutor, Katz was in charge of all the major crimes. Now, Devenny has stepped into those shoes.
Devenny began her career at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office in 1999. She has since worked in many units throughout the office, including Juvenile, Grand Jury, Trial Team, Domestic Violence, Special Victims and Internal Affairs. She has also been a member of the Mercer County Homicide Task Force.
Devenny has tried several homicides to conviction, including her most recent trial in 2018, where the defendant was convicted of murder for shooting an innocent victim in Trenton on his 29th birthday. She has also served as the chief of the Juvenile Unit, chief of the Domestic Violence Unit, been a trial team leader, and head of Internal Affairs.
Like Katz, Devenny was instrumental in the implementation of bail reform and currently serves on the officer-involved shooting team. She has run the office intern program for years, which has allowed her to mentor hundreds of young lawyers, many of whom were later hired as assistant prosecutors in the office.
Devenny was promoted to chief of Trial Teams in 2015, and in 2016 she was named as executive assistant prosecutor.
“Her elevation to deputy first assistant prosecutor creates that continuity that we are looking for in the office,” says Onofri. “She has been in every unit and has handled every kind of case you can imagine.”
Her promotion to her new position means she is involved with all the major crimes such as homicide, child abuse and sexual assault and economic crimes.
“For me, I always thought the sexual assault and child abuse cases were, if not the most important (cases), certainly up there with homicide,” Devenny says. “They’re such difficult cases to prosecute that not everyone can do them because of the nature of them. They take a piece of you, to see the kind of damage that has been done to victims.”
Katz always knew she wanted to be involved with law enforcement. She was inspired by her father, who worked as a municipal prosecutor in Trenton for 31 years. “I was always fascinated by what he did, from a really young age,” says Katz, who grew up in Ewing.
One of her first jobs in high school involved her with law enforcement when she worked for the deputy superintendent at the New Jersey state police.
“I loved it. Just dealing with that environment was fabulous,” she says.
Katz majored in English and minored in political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick before going to Seton Hall law school. It wasn’t until she completed her clerkship with criminal Judge Paulette Sapp Peterson in 1995 that she truly realized that she wanted to be a prosecutor like her father.
“I like coming to work everyday. I love that I don’t know what I’m going to walk into, but at the end of the day, even if something terrible has happened, to someone hopefully we can do right by that person,” Katz says.
Devenny was never one of those children who knew what they wanted to be as she was growing up in Mount Laurel. Now, she is proud to demonstrate to her two young daughters that they can grow up to be anything that they want, even in a male-dominated field like hers.
She went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick to study history. In her junior year, she took an elective called Women in the Law, which piqued her interest in criminal justice. She went on to attend law school at Seton Hall University, and after graduating, she completed a clerkship with Judge Andrew J. Smithson before beginning work at the prosecutor’s office in 1999.
Devenny says she considered becoming a public defender because she received offers from private firms offering three times the salary of a prosecutor. But she chose the prosecution side on philosophical grounds. “I believe that we are the gatekeepers to justice. Our job isn’t to do right by a client or by a victim for that matter, our job is to just do the right thing,” Devenny says.
Given the demanding hours prosecutors and public defenders work, Devenny says she would rather do what she loves instead of work for the salary.
“You’ll never get bored and you’ll never get rich being a prosecutor,” she says. “If I’m going to be doing something for 50, 60, 70 hours a week, it’s got to be something I love.”
In her free time, Devenny spends time with her two daughters, traveling to their soccer and softball tournaments.
Katz, who has a son who plays baseball, says one of the toughest things about her job is maintaining the balance between work and family.
“As a mother, you want to be there and you don’t want to miss things, but he gets it and he never gives me a hard time. He understands that what I do is important,” Katz says about her son.
Outside of their work, both Katz and Devenny enjoy exercising and spending time with friends and family as a way to decompress from their jobs. Katz has known Devenny since she began her clerkship, and says that they both operate on the same wavelength. Onofri agrees.
“They work incredibly well together, to the point that they can anticipate each other’s responses and advice that is going to be given,” he says. “Both Katz and Devenny are widely considered among the go-to people in our office.”
Devenny says that she, Katz, and another colleague make a pact every year to go on a girls’ trip as another way to decompress. They have plans to book an upcoming trip to the Bahamas in October.