Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election next year, saying his continued vigor and strong desire to continue as the state’s chief lawyer must be balanced by his advancing age.
“I don’t want to stay past my sell-by date,” said Frosh, who turned 75 this month. “I’d rather go out at the top of my game.”
Frosh said his policy priorities for his final 15 months will include lobbying the General Assembly for a law prohibiting the possession of ghost guns, firearms without serial numbers that are nearly impossible to track and increasingly a weapon of choice for criminals. He will also urge the legislature to make eviction proceedings more expensive – and thus less common — for landlords to bring by raising their court filing fees from $15 to about $115.
The measure, which Frosh called a civil rights issue for low-income tenants, died in the General Assembly last session.
Frosh said his departure as attorney general will mark a redefinition rather than an end of his public-service career, which began with his election to the House of Delegates in 1986.
“It’s not going to be a retirement,” Frosh said. “I would still like to play a role in the issues I feel most passionate about,” including environmental protection, gun control and helping low-income Marylanders, he added. “I would not feel comfortable with myself if I were not pitching in somehow.”
Frosh, who maintained a civil law practice before becoming attorney general in 2015, said he has no intention of returning to the “straight-up practice of law” and the demands of preparing legal briefs.
“It’s been so fun to have people do that for me,” Frosh said of his assistant attorneys general.
In a letter to his staff Thursday, Frosh called his nearly seven years as attorney general “the most rewarding, fulfilling and, I believe, productive experience of my professional life.”
Frosh wrote that he intends “to make the most of every single moment” of his final 15 months as attorney general.
“I will continue to work with you to provide the best possible legal advice to our clients, to protect Marylanders, to improve their lives and to fight for justice,” Frosh stated in the letter released by his public information office. “Let us make the most of the remaining time we have together.”
U.S. Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, who had encouraged Frosh to run for attorney general seven years ago, hailed Frosh’s tenure as Maryland’s chief lawyer.
“Generations to come will marvel at (the) attorney general’s luminous integrity and magnificent public service,” Raskin, D-Md., stated via text. “His unshakable commitment to the public interest sets an imperishable standard for that office.”
Frosh has had his detractors, particularly Republicans who said the Democratic attorney general focused too much on suing former President Donald Trump than on serving the needs of Marylanders.
“He and I always got along on the personal side,” state Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said Thursday.
“We seldom agreed on the professional side,” added Cassilly, who is running for Harford County executive. “I didn’t appreciate devotion of attorney general resources into national politics.”
But Sen. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, counted Frosh’s legal challenges to Trump and his administration among the attorney general’s greatest assets.
“In addition to being a watchdog for the state’s concerns, he (Frosh) stepped up to defend our Constitution amidst the tumult of the Trump presidency,” Smith said in a statement.
“He worked with attorneys general from across the country to keep the federal government accountable on matters spanning from the Chesapeake watershed and offshore drilling to abuses of power,” added Smith, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “He ensured Maryland played a meaningful role on the national stage.”
Frosh defended his lawsuits against the Trump and his administration on issues ranging from the separation of undocumented immigrants from their children, a ban on travel to the United States from majority Muslim countries, relaxation of environmental controls and Trump’s alleged unconstitutional profits from his hotel property in Washington.
“Somebody had to do something about it,” Frosh said Thursday.
“The Justice Department (under Trump) wasn’t going to do anything about it,” he added. “Maryland has an interest in our country not subjecting people to that treatment.”
Political science professor Mileah Kromer said Frosh’s legacy is “entirely tied to Trump.”
“But it’s in a way that he used the power of his office to protect the rule of law and in his view protect Marylanders from the worst policies coming out of the Trump administration,” added Kromer, who teaches at Goucher College and directs the Goucher Poll. “If you’re somebody who was really pro-Trump, you might not view that as a positive. But Maryland is a state where Trump was never able to muster much over a 30% rating. I would say it is safe to say the majority of Marylanders would be behind those types of actions.”
Frosh campaigned for attorney general in 2014 pledging to be “the people’s lawyer” and began his tenure in 2015 by enforcing and defending laws he championed during his more than quarter century in the General Assembly, including gun control and environmental protection.
His early victories included defeating a federal court challenge from gun rights advocates who argued that the Maryland Firearm Safety Act’s prohibition on possession of assault style weapons violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Both the U.S. District Court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the 2013 law, which Frosh had drafted and shepherded through the General Assembly while chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a position he held for a dozen years.
The Supreme Court declined without comment to hear the gun rights advocates appeal. As attorney general, Frosh also sought to end what he called the “criminalization of poverty” in which low-income Marylanders could be jailed for failing to pay fines they could not afford.
He found success in his effort to curtail cash bail, which he called a violation of due process for those too poor to pay the price to stay out of jail prior to trial. He successfully advocated for a rule, approved by Maryland’s top court, that ensures bail is only ordered as a last resort to ensure a defendant’s attendance at trial.
During the pandemic, Frosh convened a task force to ensure “access to justice” for Marylanders hard hit financially but still in need of legal representation to protect their housing and employment and to secure public assistance.
He lobbied for a law that would give tenants a right to counsel in eviction proceedings. That proposal fell short during the last General Assembly session, though lawmakers enacted a measure providing that tenants have access to counsel.
Frosh, a Columbia University law school graduate and civil attorney during his years in private practice, urged his fellow lawyers last summer to do their part to help low-income Marylanders.
“The privilege of our professional expertise comes with responsibility,” Frosh said in July. “We have folks in dire need of legal help. We hope that every single member of the bar will step up.”
Frosh, widely regarded as a moderate Democrat in the legislature, drew Republican scorn in 2017 when he successfully lobbied the legislature to expand the attorney general’s statutory authority and allow him to sue the federal government without permission from the governor or General Assembly. Frosh said the authority was needed to protect the state from Trump, whose presidency the attorney general called “chaotic.”
Frosh, with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, subsequently sued Trump, alleging that he was violating the Constitution’s anti-corruption provision by steering business from visiting foreign and domestic dignitaries to his Trump International Hotel in Washington. Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause — receiving profits while in office — harmed nearby Maryland lodging establishments by stealing business from them, Frosh alleged.
The case drew criticism from many who viewed the attorney general’s suit as an inappropriate partisan attack on Trump rather than a legal effort to protect the interests of Maryland residents.
The lawsuit essentially died with the end of Trump’s presidency.
“I love the job” of attorney general, Frosh said Thursday.
“It allows me to tell myself that I am making an impact,” he added. “I hope people will think I was conscientious and honest and that I stuck up for Marylanders … and most of all that I fought for justice.”
Daily Record reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.