Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein took his ceremonial oath of office Tuesday evening at a grand courthouse gathering that brimmed with optimism about the new top prosecutor while acknowledging the difficulty of his task.
The first such event since 1964, the swearing in seemed to be the temporary center of Baltimore’s political and legal world. Congressmen, judges and dozens of other public officials packed the courtroom as Bernstein’s longtime friends told funny stories, praised his diligence and integrity and wished him well.
After promising to uphold the laws of Maryland, Bernstein recognized the distinguished assemblage before reiterating campaign promises to concentrate on repeat violent offenders and upgrade the office’s personnel and technology. He thanked his predecessor, Patricia C. Jessamy, who was on a family vacation and not in attendance, but said “we must change the way we do business.”
“The season for promises, however, is over,” said Bernstein, whose term began Monday.
Retired Baltimore City Judge Elsbeth Bothe, for whom Bernstein clerked in the early 1980s, was the first to speak on his behalf and said she regards Bernstein as “something of a savior” for the city.
Former law partner Gerard P. Martin, who was treasurer for Bernstein’s campaign, told stories about how Bernstein’s persistence nearly saved guilty defendants from conviction. The pair met at the now defunct Melnicove, Kaufman, Weiner, Smouse & Garbis.
“I am not sure there’s anyone who can outwork Gregg when he sets his mind on a goal,” Martin said.
Martin Himeles, a more recent law partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, said he had “never been more surprised” when Bernstein told him he wanted to run but that he will be “as good a state’s attorney as any city could hope for.”
Warren Brown, a defense attorney who was loud in his support of Bernstein during the campaign, recalled a conversation with the new top prosecutor during which they discussed the black political establishment’s support for Jessamy.
“I’m sorry, boy, but I’m all you got,” Brown said in a speech that included a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. but also joked about sending city crooks to the county.
In related news, former The Daily Record Editor-in-Chief Mark Cheshire will be joining Bernstein’s office in a public relations capacity, he said Tuesday after the swearing in. Cheshire, currently a high school English teacher in Baltimore, was hired late last month and could not say exactly what his role would be.
Dwight Pettit, a defense attorney who was invited to the event, said the event gets Bernstein “off to a good start.”
“I like his attitude,” said Pettit, who backed Jessamy during the campaign. “But he’s got a big job.”