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Rosenstein urges attorneys to model civility, educate public on legal principles

OCEAN CITY — Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein addressed a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday to open the Maryland State Bar Association’s Legal Summit and Annual Meeting, where he called on his fellow attorneys to model moderation and skepticism in an increasingly partisan environment.

Rosenstein quoted Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and former U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson in his comments, which touched on bedrock prosecution principles and on political pundits critical of Rosenstein’s time in the Trump administration.

“I believe lawyers should take responsibility and set an example of civility,” Rosenstein said. Though he said some people believe attorneys “foment controversy,” Rosenstein said the additional duties imposed on lawyers require that they foster confidence in the judicial system.

Calling attorneys the defenders of the “inner ramparts” of the country, such as the Constitution, Rosenstein encouraged them to speak to community groups and schools to spread the word about legal principles.

Though he sidestepped or declined to answer questions from the crowd about decisions made during his tenure in the U.S. Department of Justice, Rosenstein said “a rule of law system is about process, not just outcome” and emphasized his practice, when a case has political significance, of asking himself if the decision would be the same if the politics were reversed.

Rosenstein served as U.S. Attorney for Maryland from 2005 until 2017, when he was appointed deputy attorney general. He said that within weeks of being sworn in, he got a text message from a friend urging him to leave the administration: “You need to get out of there immediately.”

Rosenstein said he unplugged the television in his office and avoided a lot of media coverage.

“It’s easy to accuse someone of a crime in a television studio,” he said. “It’s not as easy (to prove guilt) beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”

Rosenstein acknowledged that not everyone is pleased with decisions he made, particularly those surrounding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But he said he has learned that people form opinions without possessing all of the facts and that critics often do not care about the truth.

Of Mueller’s investigation, Rosenstein said, “It doesn’t matter to me what side the Russians supported.” He added that he believed Mueller followed his mandate as special counsel.

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