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Ain’t no sunshine in Baltimore

One would think that in this darkest, coldest time of the year Baltimore’s public officials would welcome the warmth of a little sunshine. But in this reporter’s recent experience, it seems they’d rather shut the doors to keep out the elements. All metaphorically speaking, of course.

Exhibit A: The Yakov Shapiro case. City officials have maintained that it was never their idea to keep quiet the mistaken-identity arrest of an innocent Soviet-born violin teacher or the legal settlement they reached with him. On the other hand, The Daily Record nearly had to sue the city to get the story, and official explanations for the unprecedentedly confidential resolution of litigation have been wanting.

Watch video of Commissioner Bealefeld refusing to answer a Daily Record reporter’s question.

Exhibit B: The police commissioner’s silence regarding the cost to taxpayers of alleged police misconduct. Anyone who monitors the Baltimore Board of Estimates’ weekly agenda knows that the city’s spending panel is regularly — at least monthly — asked to approve the settlement of a lawsuit alleging police mistakes or brutality.

At a time when municipal money shortages have led to cuts in city services and mandatory furloughs, it would seem reasonable to ask the man in charge of these allegedly misbehaving officers about the millions of dollars they are costing taxpayers. But as you can see in the video inset, neither he nor his spokesman think so.

Bealefeld came close to addressing the issue on Midday with Dan Rodricks Tuesday afternoon.

“We need help,” he said. “The BPD doesn’t just need help in putting more bad guys in jail. We need help in strengthening how we do our job, right — how we process evidence, our court appearances, our training on constitutional law. We need help with all of that.”

Finally, to a lesser degree, Exhibit C: Baltimore City Circuit Court Administrative Judge Marcella Holland’s refusal to allow press photography at the ceremonial swearing-in of Gregg Bernstein, Baltimore’s first new state’s attorney in nearly 16 years, on Tuesday evening.

Now, obviously the swearing-in was public, and reporters attended and wrote about the event. And I understand court was technically in session and photography is generally prohibited in the courthouse — usually for good reason. But Bernstein’s swearing-in would seem to be a reasonable exception to the rule.

For instance, a Daily Record photographer was permitted to capture images of this drug court graduation a year and a half ago, and Judge Holland herself noted that press photographers have clicked away during National Adoption Day.

But Tuesday night’s event didn’t qualify, according to the judge. Space, rules, policy and historical precedent were among the reasons the judge gave for her “no” decision.

“There’s a lot of variables that you can’t put down in black and white,” she said. “It’s my call.”

Holland also questioned the newsworthiness of the ceremony. However, I can’t remember the last time so many local political and legal leaders were in one room. Not only were the mayor, police commissioner and at least three city council members there, but also two congressmen, judges from several courts, four of Mr. Bernstein’s predecessors (though not his immediate predecessor, Patricia Jessamy, who is apparently out of town this week) and at least one of his former clients, former State Sen. Larry Young, whom Bernstein successfully defended against charges of bribery. Chief Judge Martin P. Welch said the swearing in was the first of its kind since 1964.

What do you think? Are we asking too much of these city officials or, in these instances, are these public servants falling short in serving the public?

3 comments

  1. You’re being whiny on the swearing-in issue (which is all the column seems to be about). Holland should have allowed photography, I agree, but it’s a very small issue and not the highest and best use of newspaper space. Put your Woodward and Bernstein fantasies to rest and get back to real work.

  2. Strong points all around. And it’s good to read that someone is asking the important questions. Thanks for including the video clip, as that comment didn’t show up on the newscast I saw.

  3. Brendan, I think you missed a golden opportunity for a follow up question when the Police Commissioner, in response to your question about rogue cops costing taxpayers millions, said “we’re here to talk about bad guys with guns.” You should have said, “that’s who I was talking about.”!!!