The race for Baltimore City State’s Attorney has a bit of a déjà vu feel to it.
The challengers are claiming the incumbent prosecutor has not done more to keep violent, repeat offenders behind bars and also needs to improve the office’s reputation in the community. The incumbent counters by pointing to a drop in violent crime and a more efficient and responsive corps of prosecutors.
Four years ago, Gregg L. Bernstein was the challenger, ultimately defeating longtime State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy by 1,100 votes in the Democratic primary election. Today, Bernstein is the incumbent, defending his record against many of the same allegations he made while running for office.
Bernstein squares off in next month’s primary against Marilyn J. Mosby, a former city prosecutor who now works in insurance litigation. The winner will move on to November’s general election to face Russell A. Neverdon Sr., a criminal defense lawyer running as an independent.
The Daily Record sent all three contenders a list of questions about their platforms and candidacy. Their responses are below.
- Gregg L. Bernstein
- Marilyn J. Mosby
- Russell A. Neverdon Sr.
Career highlights: University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, 1981. Assistant U.S. attorney, 1987-1991. Partner, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, 2004-2010.
Why should voters reelect you as state’s attorney?
I promised results, and that is exactly what I’ve produced. I promised an unrelenting focus on the violent, repeat offenders who drive the violence in our city, and that is exactly what I have delivered. I am a lifelong resident of Baltimore. I went to college and law school at the University of Maryland, and I bring over 30 years of trial experience to the job. During my first term as state’s attorney, I made significant changes to the office which have led to real results, including:
• Increasing the felony conviction rate, resulting in the conviction of nearly 500 more dangerous criminals each year.
• Creating the Major Investigations Unit, which has successfully prosecuted and convicted more than 200 violent, repeat offenders including gang members and drug dealers.
• Increasing conviction rates in rape and sexual assault cases by establishing a Special Victims Unit to more effectively prosecute rapists, sex offenders and cases of domestic violence.
• Increasing conviction rates and obtaining longer sentences in homicide cases, making sure that those who kill are identified, charged, convicted, and sent to jail for a long time.
• Transforming the office into a Community Prosecution model to ensure that every prosecutor works closely with and understands the needs of each community in order to fight crime together.
• Increasing gun convictions and sentences, taking 100 more gun offenders off the streets each year.
I have also supported and expanded policies that keep non-violent offenders charged with things like marijuana possession from getting a criminal record and being put in jail. For those kinds of crimes, I support alternatives such as community service, treatment or counseling. Last year alone, over 4,400 individuals – up from 676 in 2010 – had their marijuana charges resolved without a conviction on their record, ensuring that a prosecution will not interfere with their ability to go to school or get a job.
These are just some of the ways in which we have made progress since 2010, and I plan build on this foundation during the next four years.
What are your goals for a second term?
My number one priority is reducing violent crime in Baltimore and prosecuting and convicting violent, repeat offenders. I will continue to partner with the police to build strong cases, make arrests, get convictions and obtain significant sentences for violent criminals. This is my primary focus for the next four years.
I will also work tirelessly to get drug dealers off the streets and dismantle gang networks. Last year, working with the Baltimore Police Department, I partnered to target violent drug organizations in Coppin Heights, East Oliver, Gilmor Homes, Lafeyette Square, and the Belvedere Corridor. These investigations led to the dismantling of five criminal organizations and the indictment of 97 gang members and drug traffickers. I will continue to work to rid every neighborhood in Baltimore of the drug dealers and gangs that threaten their safety.
I am also planning new initiatives to tackle those crimes that can make a city a frustrating place to live – crimes like car break-ins, street robberies, and home invasions. These crimes harm our neighborhoods and drive residents from the city. Like violent crime, these cases are driven by a small group of repeat offenders. I am committed to identifying them, holding them accountable for their crimes, and fighting to get the sentences they deserve.
What is something you learned about being state’s attorney that you weren’t aware of before taking office?
I’ve learned something that I long suspected to be true: the 200 prosecutors in the State’s Attorney’s Office are incredibly hard-working and dedicated men and women who work every single day to make our city safer. They have a hard job, but with the right leadership, significant progress has and will continue to be made.
One of your top priorities in your first run for state’s attorney was increasing prosecutors’ conviction rate. One of your opponents has strongly criticized you for failing to get convictions in violent and sexual assault cases. How do you think you have done in achieving your goal?
Under my leadership, the State’s Attorney’s Office has increased convictions rates in felony cases, homicides, sexual assaults, rapes, and serious gun cases. Our prosecutors are convicting 500 more dangerous criminals, charged with felonies, each year. We are convicting 100 more gun offenders each year, and they are receiving longer sentences than before. The Special Victim’s Unit has increased convictions in rape and sexual assault cases by more than 10 percent.
In an interview with The Daily Record after you were elected, you said “one of the toughest jobs I think I’m going to have” is focusing on serious crimes while also “unclogging the system of thousands of smaller cases.” How do you think you have done in balancing both?
My philosophy is to focus our resources on violent, repeat offenders. One way I do that is by being smart and creative about how we handle non-violent misdemeanors. Take marijuana possession, for example. In 2012, I lobbied the legislature to pass a bill that would reduce the maximum possible penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This bill – with the leadership of Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, and Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery – passed the General Assembly and was signed into law by the Gov. Martin O’Malley. This law has kept thousands of marijuana possession cases in the District Court and out of the circuit court, freeing up the time of prosecutors and judges to focus on the more serious cases. I have also dramatically increased our marijuana diversion program, in which those arrested for marijuana possession have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service, treatment or counseling. These efforts show how we can be innovative and increase efficiencies in the system to ensure that the most serious cases are given the attention they deserve.
Both of your opponents are campaigning on a platform of building more trust between your office and the community. How do you think your office is viewed in the community? What, if anything, does your office need to do to improve its relationship with the community?
Under my leadership, the State’s Attorney’s Office is fully engaged with the community and, achieving the kind of results that our citizens demand. To be effective, prosecutors must focus on community crime problems, understand neighborhoods, and build stronger relationships with residents, victims, witnesses, and police. Recognizing this, I completely reconfigured the State’s Attorney’s Office to a community prosecution model, in which prosecutors work with residents and police focusing on specific neighborhoods. Prosecutors are now assigned to geographic-based teams that work to make specific neighborhoods and communities safer. We have made progress, but we still have work to do. Building trust is a process and takes time. I am committed to building on the progress we have made and continuing to work with community leaders and residents to strengthen the relationship between residents and prosecutors.
Speaking of the community, some believe you have not been effective in handling allegations of unnecessary use of force by police officers. How would your respond to those people? What do you say to voters who believe your office has not been effective in handling allegations of unnecessary use of force by police officers?
Police and prosecutors have to work closely together to build cases and get convictions, and the vast majority of police officers are hard-working men and women who risk their lives every day to keep us safe. However, there are instances in which police officers break the law and, it is my job to prosecute them. During my tenure, the State’s Attorney’s Office has prosecuted more than 20 police officers. These cases range from excessive force to perjury to assault to murder.
How would you characterize your office’s relationship with the Baltimore Police Department?
I campaigned on a promise to improve the relationship between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the police department, and I have fulfilled that promise. Prosecutors and police have to work together – not point fingers at one another – and the State’s Attorney’s Office now works very closely and cooperatively with the Baltimore Police Department as well as other city, state and federal law enforcement partners. Our prosecutors have never before had such a good working relationship with the police, and we are engaged in a constant discussion with the police department about how to identify and build cases against violent, repeat offenders.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The toughest part of my job is making sure that the processes involved in the everyday administration of the criminal justice system don’t hamper our ability to successfully fight violent crime and prosecute cases. There are a number of procedural challenges that make my job tougher, like case scheduling and court rooms being available for trial. I am committed to working with my partners in the justice system to make progress on these issues so that we can implement efficiencies to make the system better and, ultimately, to make the city safer.
Career highlights: Boston College Law School, 2005. Assistant state’s attorney for Baltimore city, 2005 – 2012. Civil litigator, Liberty Mutual Insurance, 2012 – present.
Why are you running for state’s attorney?
I’m running for state’s attorney because Baltimore deserves a top prosecutor that is focused on stamping out violent crime by winning lengthy convictions for violent repeat offenders, rebuilding trust between the community and law enforcement to create high quality jury pools, and approaching law enforcement with an eye for innovation and transparency.
Jobs, education, and public safety are essential to growing Baltimore. We’ve seen advancements on both fronts with the recent Ban the Box legislation, the Amazon facility, and the Horseshoe Casino’s commitment to hiring locally. In a city/state partnership, Baltimore was able to get a historic school construction bill passed. But the violent crime in our neighborhoods remains stubbornly high. How can we ever expect young families to stay in Baltimore if we can’t protect them from a revolving door of violent repeat offenders?
In 2010, Baltimore was on the trajectory of having some of the lowest violent crime rates in decades. The incumbent made a promise to accelerate the reduction of crime but unfortunately, has been highly ineffective and violent crime has increased under his watch. Unlike my opponent, I’ve had the awesome opportunity of serving in the State’s Attorney’s Office for over 6 years and facing down and convicting some of the most heinous criminals in the state of Maryland. Baltimore is in dire need of a top prosecutor that knows their way around the Maryland Circuit court system and will step up and prosecute violent repeat offenders.
What would be your goals if elected state’s attorney?
My platform brings a pragmatic, transformative, and aggressive vision of change to Baltimore’s criminal justice system. It addresses the justice system’s most immediate areas of need: violent criminals, restoring public trust, and protecting vulnerable populations.
The traditional approach to crime fighting in Baltimore has failed. In 2010, the current incumbent promised to increase conviction rates in Baltimore, reduce violent crime, and raise the public’s sense of safety. None of this has happened since he took office. Instead, the ACLU recently released a report showing that Maryland (particularly Baltimore) is incarcerating individuals for drug possession at alarming rates, a convicted sex offender has escaped prosecution in four consecutive rape cases, and murders have sharply increased to 235 murders all while the current incumbent cherry-picks his cases and charges less frequently than his predecessor. As a result, the public has lost all confidence in the criminal justice system.
Platform at a glance:
Strategic violent repeat offender coordination – Within the first 100 days of office, I will have a comprehensive process to manage violent repeat offender list that is mutually agreed upon by the State’s Attorney’s Office and Baltimore Police Department
Truth in sentencing – I will continue to push for strengthening the total percentage of actual time served for violent crimes
Sexual assault legislation – I successfully worked to get legislation introduced (HB 1528) that would bring Maryland law in line with federal statutes so that sexual assault victims have a fair opportunity to receive justice
Victim/witness services unit – Create a victim/witness services unit that will transform the way the State’s Attorney’s Office interacts with victims, witnesses, and the general public
Transparency and innovation – I will make case dispositions publicly available and easily searchable and accessible. Baltimore [also] should be a welcoming environment for thought leaders and researchers in the field of criminal justice
“Back on Track” pilot program – Pilot program designed to introduce young drug offenders to the possibilities of engaging in a “legitimate” line of work in an effort to reduce recidivism rates and strengthen communities by increasing access to education and employment
If elected, what would be the first two or three things you would do in office?
As I previously stated, within the first 100 days of office I would sit down with BPD and develop a comprehensive process that allows the SAO and BPD to effectively manage and target the violent repeat offender list.
A recent evaluation report of the police department found that the [violent repeat offender] program “has lost its impetus and its focus in recent years” and that the process for maintaining the program “has not been disciplined or well regulated,” with the BPD claiming the SAO manages the list, and the SAO claiming the BPD manages the list. The current police commissioner has been in place for two years, and the current state’s attorney has been in office for three years; discord on such a central component of Baltimore’s crime-fighting plan is unacceptable and must be immediately rectified.
One of your criticisms of the current state’s attorney is that he is failing to obtain convictions. How would you increase the conviction rate?
As state’s attorney my focus will be on seeking justice. I will not cherry-pick cases (as charged by former Baltimore Sun reporter and “Wire” creator David Simon), and there will not be a disclaimer on my stats (as found on data reports issued by the SAO) that may cause others to question the validity of my progress.
I will create a world-class victim/witness services unit that will be dedicated to assisting victims and witnesses through every step of the criminal proceedings. This unit will also provide proactive outreach to communities impacted by crime and violence as a way to strengthen the bonds between neighborhoods and the law enforcement officials that serve them. The result will be victims and witnesses that trust police and prosecutors—and will thereby be more willing to cooperate as witnesses and jurors. Trust is the fastest way to improve Baltimore’s jury pools and its conviction rates.
You have said there is a “culture of distrust” between the community and the state’s attorney’s office. What was or is the cause of that? How would you improve the office’s relationship with the community?
Firing nine community liaisons and saying through a spokesman that “we all have to do more with less” is unconscionable. Especially when one considers the fact that the current state’s attorney then lobbied the state and the city for $11 million in taxpayer funds to move to a Class-A corporate headquarters overlooking the Inner Harbor. This is one glaring example of my opponent’s priorities being off.
Moreover, the current incumbent implemented a vertical prosecutorial organizational structure and called it “community prosecution” yet without outreach and engagement of the community, the model is ineffective at best. The lack of interface with the community further exacerbates the distrust of the community and the prosecutors that are called to serve them. In order for us to develop sustainable public safety advances in the city of Baltimore, we must have a prosecutor that understands the importance of transparency, accessibility and community engagement. One recent debacle of this structure and lack of focus on the community was the dealing of the Matt Hersl and the Tyrone West cases, where both cases there seemed to be a lack of transparency and communication with the family on behalf of the state’s attorney’s office.
As state’s attorney, please describe the relationship you would like your office to have with the Baltimore Police Department.
I want to establish a true partnership with the BPD. The internal evaluation report conducted by the police department shows that there is insufficient coordination in violent repeat offender targeting, which is one of the most critical areas of the crime fight. That needs to change.
I plan to be on the front lines when violence spikes or an exceptional tragedy occurs, much like the mayor and the police commissioner. This past winter and summer, the Mayor [Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] and [police Commissioner Anthony W.] Batts showed great leadership by walking the neighborhoods, engaging the community, and attending association meetings and forums to hear the concerns and frustrations of those fed up with the violence. The current incumbent was notably absent at the high points of these spikes of violence — that will not be the case when I become Baltimore’s next state’s attorney.
What would you say to voters who might be concerned you are too young and inexperienced to be state’s attorney? What about your being married to councilman [Nick J. Mosby, a Democrat] who has transferred money to your campaign?
Roughly half of City Council, the AFL-CIO, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and former congressman Kweisi Mfume all believe that as a former prosecutor with an 80 percent conviction rate, I have the knowledge and experience to be the next Baltimore city state’s attorney. Voters should be less concerned about my youth and more concerned about Nelson Clifford, a registered sex offender and serial rapist that has faced five separate rape charges. He has defeated the State’s Attorney’s Office four consecutive times in the past three years and currently awaits trial for a fifth time. In 2010, the incumbent promised that he would personally try these sorts of cases, yet when I publicly called on him to take the final case against Clifford, he declined. The incumbent’s ineffectiveness and lack of prosecutorial experience has been consistently apparent, as was self-accentuated in the very first case he personally tried in May 2011. Voters need an aggressive, experienced and successful prosecutor that has the courage to keep her campaign promises long after an election has been decided.
My husband is a legislator and I am a prosecutor. We are both lifelong public servants. I am certainly blessed to have a partner willing and able to support to my campaign; however, my husband is one of the many public officials, business leaders, and community leaders to contribute to my campaign. I’m sure my opponent received an equal amount of love and support from his wife [Sheryl Goldstein] while she served as the former director of the Office of Criminal Justice.
You have been active lobbying for legislation in Annapolis, including allowing prosecutors to mention prior charges in sexual assault trials. If elected state’s attorney, how active would you be in policy issues and debates? Modern state’s attorneys need to be more than law-and-order administrators.
While my primary focus will be on securing lengthy sentences for violent repeat offenders, it is important to recognize the role that the criminal justice system plays within an urban society. As state’s attorney, I will advocate for laws and policies that reduce the recidivism rate, protect our most vulnerable populations, and seek to provide opportunities for socio-economically challenged populations to turn their lives around through employment, education and community service. You can’t arrest and convict your way out of a crime problem, and I’m willing to engage any and all stakeholders to provide a holistic approach to reducing crime in Baltimore.
Career highlights: The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clark School of Law, 1998, Baltimore solo practitioner 1999 – present.
Why are you running for state’s attorney?
I am running for office because our city is in desperate need for a different approach to increasing public safety. As a resident of Baltimore city, born and raised, I understand the dynamics of this City and what is truly needed to accomplish the promotion of public safety.
Why are you running as an independent?
I chose to run as an independent Democrat because I did not want a position as important as the state’s attorney to be decided by one party in a primary.
It is an office that is and should be independent of party affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, political agendas, income or education. It is representative of all of Baltimore city’s diverse population and interests and therefore everyone should have at a minimum, an opportunity to participate in the political process.
This was a decision strategically decided before I ever announced my bid to run and was carefully considered among other factors of low voter turnout, lack of interest and lack of participation. This is an extremely important role and it’s importance should be shared amongst the people so that in the end, regardless of who they chose, they will have been able to say they had choices, real choices. Lastly, it creates an environment for the people to truly focus on the issues of public safety and crime and justice.
If elected, what would be the first two or three things you would do in office?
The first three things I would do are: first, initiate a youth prevention initiative; second, establish a solid trifecta with a community partnership and with the Baltimore Police Department; third, reorganize the office to meet the needs of the community as a whole.
Your have said your goal, if elected, is to implement what you call the TRACE methodology (transparency, restoration of public trust, accountability, community inclusion and involvement and equitable and efficient prosecution). How do you achieve “equitable and efficient prosecution”?
“Equitable and efficient prosecution” means to truly investigate all matters from every neighborhood and demographic and ensure that justice prevails regardless of person, gender, sexual orientation, influence or economic status. No one is above the law and that includes police misconduct prosecutions as well as corruption. There are senior crimes that are not adequately addressed, hate crimes as well as economic crimes.
With regards to “restoration of public trust” and “community inclusion,” how would you assess the community’s current relationship with the state’s attorney’s office? How would you improve the relationship?
As far as the community, simply speak with most inner city neighborhoods and they are clueless as to what the state’s attorney actually does or the obligation to the citizens. The relationship is non-existent.
As state’s attorney, please describe the relationship you would like your office to have with the Baltimore Police Department.
A working relationship where it is understood that, although we work together, we are separate entities.
Should you be elected, how would your career as a criminal defense lawyer help you as the city’s top prosecutor? How would it hurt you? How would being a solo practitioner help or hurt you your new job?
My career as a defense attorney has afforded me the ability to learn about the issues of the citizens as victims of crime as well as perpetrators of crime and to see the correlation between the increase and socio-economic disparity. I get the big picture, there needs to be a holistic approach and prevention as key.
According to the most recent campaign finance report, filed in January, your campaign has less than $2,000 available, while the other two candidates have at least $100,000 available. How do you plan to campaign against such a well-funded opponent?
I am not running against any opponent, I am running on behalf of and for the citizens of Baltimore, to give them a real choice, with real solutions for our very real problems. People win elections, not money. We are ready to raise what we need.