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Frosh hints at run for AG, discloses priorities

Sen. Brian E. Frosh will begin his 27th year in the General Assembly this month with his thoughts on statewide office.

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh spoke with The Daily Record within days of the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. He said of the ease with which people can acquire guns, “It’s a serious public health issue that has not been addressed.”

Frosh, an all-but-officially-announced candidate for Maryland attorney general in 2014, has formed an exploratory committee and will hold fundraisers on Sunday and Tuesday in support of his pending run even as he prepares for the legislative session, which begins next Wednesday. But the Montgomery County Democrat said any formal announcement for attorney general will not be made until after the General Assembly recesses at midnight April 9.

Until then, Frosh said his attention will be focused — as it has been for the past 10 years — on his duties as chair of the influential Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The panel’s agenda remains full of hot-button issues that a candidate for statewide office might seek to avoid, including the death penalty (which he opposes), pit bulls (the owners of which Frosh believes should be held strictly liable for injuries their dogs cause) and gun control (which Frosh favors).

“Let the political chips fall where they may,” Frosh said, referring to the effect these divisive issues might have on a bid for attorney general. But the 66-year-old attorney also left no doubt regarding his desire to be Maryland’s chief prosecutor, litigator and managing partner of what he called “the biggest law firm in the state.”

Being attorney general is “a to-die-for job,” Frosh said recently in a wide-ranging interview with editorial staff of The Daily Record. “It’s my dream job. If I’m lucky enough to be there, I’ll be very happy.”

But he quickly added that chairing the Judicial Proceedings Committee is “the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” even though he loses almost as often as he wins.

Frosh, for example, has failed all but once to get a bill to abolish the death penalty out of his own committee (the votes are just not there, he says). And that one time, in 2009, opponents of the death penalty — with his support — used a procedural motion in an effort to bring a vote to the Senate floor after the measure failed in committee.

The legislative gambit resulted not in abolition but in passage of a law that limits capital punishment to cases when the police have biological evidence, a videotaped confession or other video conclusively linking the defendant to the murder.

Frosh said he, as committee chairman, would be loath to attempt another procedural end run because the stratagem usurps the committee process.

“I don’t think that’s a great way of doing business,” Frosh added.

Pit bulls

Frosh also suffered defeat during a General Assembly special session last summer, when he co-chaired a task force to review a controversial Maryland high court decision that held pit bull owners and their landlords strictly liable for injuries caused by the dogs. Pit bull owners successfully lobbied to defeat Frosh’s effort to codify part of the Court of Appeals’ April 26 Tracey v. Solesky decision by holding owners but not landlords strictly liable.

Frosh called losing an occupational hazard for a legislator, but necessary at times for a committee chair. If the chair always gets his or her way, he said, “It makes everyone else [on the committee] feel they don’t have a stake.”

“It’s important for me to lose as chairman,” he added. “The chairman can’t always be right.”

An effort to abolish capital punishment — potentially with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s support — is expected to be before the committee again this session and will have Frosh’s support.

“I don’t have a moral problem with the death penalty,” Frosh said. Instead, he said, his concern is with the possibility that an innocent person could be executed.

He cited the case of Kirk Bloodsworth, who served two years on Maryland’s death row before being exonerated in the 1984 rape and murder of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton in Rosedale. Bloodsworth’s death sentence was changed on appeal to life in prison before his conviction was overturned in 1993, when it was determined his DNA did not match that found at the crime scene.

Frosh added that he plans to reintroduce a pit bull measure.

“The Court of Appeals was onto something” in holding pit bull owners strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs, Frosh said. But the court’s decision holding landlords liable as well was “a bridge too far,” he added.

“These dogs are more dangerous than other dogs,” Frosh said of pit bulls.

“Who should bear the loss” if a child is injured by a pit bull? he said. “It ought to be the owner.”

Gun control

In contrast to the continuing controversy over the death penalty and pit bulls, Frosh said he is certain the time has come for tighter gun control. He cited the Dec. 14 slaying of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by Adam Lanza, who then killed himself with a gunshot.

“It’s a serious public health issue that has not been addressed,” Frosh said of the ease with which people can acquire guns. “I don’t think you have to go beyond [Newtown] to figure that out.”

Frosh said he will reintroduce legislation this session to give the state greater regulatory authority over gun stores and Maryland police more power to enforce federal regulations of gun-store sales. Opponents of the legislation, which failed last session, have argued that Frosh’s measure needlessly duplicates authority Congress has already given to the U.S. government and federal law enforcement.

Frosh also said he hopes and expects the General Assembly will finish its work this session within the 90 days allotted under the state Constitution and will not have to go into special session to finish its work, as it did twice last year. One special session was called to finish the budget and the other to draft a ballot measure to permit expanded gambling, which Maryland voters approved in November.

“Special sessions should be very few and far between,” Frosh said. “This past year was a train wreck.”

Looking to the future

Frosh’s plans for the statewide office come amid widespread anticipation that Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler will forgo pursuit of a third term in favor of seeking the governorship in 2014. O’Malley is constitutionally barred from serving a third consecutive term as governor.

In running for attorney general, Frosh said he would have to forgo seeking re-election to the Senate.

If elected attorney general, Frosh — a name partner at Bethesda-based Karp, Frosh, Wigodsky & Norwind P.A. — would also have to surrender his law practice.

“The Constitution frowns on the attorney general having a practice on the side,” Frosh said.

But for Frosh, the job of attorney general would be the capstone of a public career that began with his election to the House of Delegates in 1986. Frosh, who won his Senate seat in 1994, said he would neither use the attorney general’s office as a steppingstone to higher office nor enjoy its perquisites while having assistants do all the work.

“I would want to be very hands-on” as attorney general, Frosh said. “The challenge for me would be to make sure that [work] is appropriately delegated.”