Should Maryland’s attorney general be a skilled courtroom practitioner or a politically savvy dealmaker?
The two Democrats vying for the job highlighted the differences in their experience during a spirited debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Maryland Wednesday night.
Former Baltimore judge Katie Curran O’Malley told the virtual audience that Maryland’s chief legal officer should have extensive trial experience in order to strategize effectively with the office’s prosecutors.
“It’s imperative that you have a leader that has that trial experience, because what you’re talking about in the Attorney General’s Office is the rule of law, it’s not politics,” O’Malley said.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, who previously served as lieutenant governor and as a member of the state House of Delegates, countered that the attorney general must know how to work with legislators to make changes to the laws that the office is responsible for enforcing.
“I would submit the attorney general — him or herself — will spend more time in Annapolis working with legislators to reform and improve the law than he or she will ever spend in a court of law,” Brown said.
The Democratic primary is likely to be the most important contest in the race for attorney general. In heavily Democratic Maryland, the winner of the primary is also expected to carry the general election.
The Republican candidates are Jim Shalleck, a former prosecutor and Montgomery County elections official, and Michael Peroutka, a former member of Anne Arundel County Council. The two were supposed to debate Tuesday evening, but Peroutka did not appear and the League of Women Voters does not allow individual candidates to present when their opponents are not in attendance.
Brown and O’Malley sparred over their respective experience during Wednesday’s debate, a key division between two candidates who largely agree, otherwise, that the Attorney General’s Office should work to combat violent crime, enforce environmental laws and protect Maryland consumers.
The two have worked together in the past: Brown served as lieutenant governor to O’Malley’s husband, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, from 2007 through 2015. Katie Curran O’Malley’s father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., also served as Maryland’s attorney general for two decades.
Both candidates joined the race after Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced last fall that he would not seek reelection.
Katie Curran O’Malley argued Wednesday that her time as a prosecutor in Baltimore County and as a District Court judge in Baltimore would prepare her for the role.
“Do you want a principal who’s never been in a classroom?” she asked. “I’ve never seen Congressman Brown in Baltimore’s courthouses.”
Brown fired back, noting that O’Malley’s experience as a judge came from her time in district court, where low-level cases are handled.
“Judge O’Malley has important experience on the district court,” Brown said. “Attorney generals don’t show up in district court. They’re in circuit court.”
The candidates discussed a range of topics, including the recent law that granted the attorney general the authority to investigate police shootings. After a recent legal battle over one such investigation, Frosh said that his office should also have the authority to prosecute police officers when appropriate.
Brown said the Attorney General’s Office should have the power to prosecute in those cases. O’Malley said that working with local state’s attorneys could lead to better outcomes.