Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s announcement last fall that he would not seek reelection sent shockwaves through political circles and launched widespread speculation about who would seek to replace him as the state’s chief legal officer.
Only one candidate, Republican Jim Shalleck, had already declared his intention to run at the time. A wider field of candidates has coalesced since Frosh’s announcement in October.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown quickly said that he would depart Congress after his third term in order to run for attorney general.
Former Baltimore judge Katie Curran O’Malley retired from the bench in October and announced her campaign for attorney general in December.
The two Democrats form an intriguing political pairing for the primary. Brown served as the lieutenant governor for O’Malley’s husband, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, from 2007 to 2015. Katie Curran O’Malley’s father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., served as Maryland’s attorney general for two decades.
Also running is Republican Michael Peroutka, a former member of Anne Arundel County Council who has past ties to the League of the South, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group because of its racist, white-nationalist views.
The Maryland State Bar Association this week is hosting one-hour interviews with each of the candidates as part of an effort to keep the legal community informed as the race picks up speed.
The Daily Record is attending the interviews, which are being conducted by MSBA President M. Natalie McSherry and former Maryland Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who works with the MSBA on its advocacy efforts. The interviews will also be published on the MSBA’s website.
The interviews with Brown and Shalleck took place first, on Tuesday. O’Malley and Peroutka will be interviewed Thursday, with a story to follow.
Both candidates at Tuesday’s interviews said they wanted to expand the role of the attorney general, albeit in very different ways. They both agreed, too, that more resources are needed to provide access to counsel to people who can’t afford lawyers in civil matters, such as evictions — a cause that Frosh has championed during recent legislative sessions.
As attorney general, Brown said, he would prioritize public safety, worker rights and environmental enforcement.
Those efforts will involve asking the legislature for greater authority, he said, including the ability to launch a worker rights unit and to investigate and prosecute violations of environmental law independently.
Brown also said the office should have the authority to prosecute members of law enforcement based on investigations into police uses of force. The General Assembly authorized the Attorney General’s Office to investigate police-involved deaths in 2021, and is considering legislation this year to broaden that authority to include prosecutions.
Brown said he also supports narrowing qualified immunity, the legal shield that protects police officers and other government officials in lawsuits over constitutional violations.
“We can hold law enforcement accountable,” Brown said. “We can support and fund law enforcement so they can do effective policing in the community. We can do both at the same time.”
Brown was a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates from 1999 until 2007, when he became O’Malley’s lieutenant governor. As a delegate representing Prince George’s County, he served on the House Judiciary Committee. Brown ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Republican Larry Hogan.
In Tuesday’s interview, Brown said the attorney general can play an important role in pursuing public safety.
“As chief legal officer, you have not only a voice, but you have tools and resources to advance public safety in Maryland,” he said. The attorney general oversees hundreds of lawyers and other staff, including investigators, and can provide support to state’s attorneys.
Brown said he supports reforming the juvenile justice system, including a proposal to charge all children as juveniles with the option to transfer them into adult court. Under the current system, certain crimes trigger automatic adult charges, even when the suspect is under 18.
Brown does not believe enhancing criminal penalties for gun crimes will act as an appropriate deterrent. He argued that the swiftness and certainty of punishment is more effective at stopping crime than long prison sentences.
“If those who possess guns understand that their day in court will come sooner rather than later, I think that’s a greater deterrant than increasing the penalties,” he said.
He also addressed the inherent discomfort of running for office against Maryland’s former first lady.
“Primaries are always difficult and awkward in that regard,” he said. “It always happens in primaries, but this one probably has to be the most awkward, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Jim Shalleck would shift the focus of the attorney general’s office toward stopping violent crime, he said.
A former prosecutor and president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, Shalleck said that his two passions are prosecution and public service.
He would create a specialized unit of assistant attorneys general to handle what he calls “street crime.” The unit would not offer plea bargains or deals to shorten an offender’s sentence, he said.
When asked if the attorney general has the authority to handle crime in Baltimore’s local jurisdictions, Shalleck noted that the governor and the legislature can ask the attorney general to get involved.
“If you can’t get that, let the public know the AG’s being stonewalled and not being allowed to participate in these endeavors,” he said.
State’s attorneys can also request help from the office, he said.
Shalleck has been a private lawyer in Montgomery County since 1994. He previously worked as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, where he led the homicide bureau, and as an assistant attorney general in New York. While working in the Bronx, Shalleck helped prosecute the “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz, according to his campaign website.
Shalleck moved to Maryland in 1989 to serve with the antitrust dicision of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Shalleck said he is a “friend of the police” and criticized lawmakers for last year’s repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, which granted police officers certain protections during internal investigations.
“I’m a friend of the police, but a bad cop is my enemy,” he said. “That taints all police officers and they do a tremendous job.”
Shalleck also said he supports holding judges accountable by publicly listing the sentences they hand down.
Shalleck said his emphasis on fighting crime would not affect the office’s other functions, including representing the state in civil litigation and pursuing lawsuits over environmental violations.
Shalleck also criticized Frosh’s national profile, including his 2017 lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump for alleged violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses.
“Mr. Frosh spent years and God knows how much money and resources going after Donald Trump for making money on his D.C. hotel,” Shalleck said. “To me, that’s a waste of money and resources. Families that are destroyed by crime deserve the attention of the attorney general.”
Asked about voting rights in Maryland, Shalleck said he is concerned because the state does not require personal identification to vote and doesn’t verify voters’ signatures when they send mail-in ballots.
And though he said he never saw “provable” evidence of election fraud in Maryland, he said it’s impossible to know if fraud exists here because of those problems.
Shalleck also said he would work to increase salaries for assistant attorneys general so that he could attract lawyers from all over the country.
“You’ve got to get the best lawyers if you can,” he said.