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Baltimore County state’s attorney steps away from office, with primary result unsettled

Scott Shellenberger

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger has been away from the office citing exhaustion even as he waits for results in a too-close-to-call election. (The Daily Record/File photo)

A top Baltimore area prosecutor locked in a too-close-to-call election is taking time away, citing exhaustion.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger has all but disappeared since the polls closed more than a week ago.

The four-term incumbent Democrat has repeatedly declined to comment on nip and tuck primary results that has seen him overcome a small election-day deficit with mail-in voting. Shellenberger’s silence extends to the office, where he has been absent. The state’s attorney in emails to supporters and a statement late Thursday to reporters downplayed his absence. 

On Monday, Shellenberger sent an email to staff in the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s office from his government email. In it, he expresses hope for a favorable outcome and acknowledges his absence from the office.

The email may also blur the line between the work of government employees and campaign activities.

“This election has been very difficult for me and I am sure for you,” Shellenberger wrote in an email sent Monday that was obtained by The Daily Record. “It has exhausted me and I need some time off to get well.”

The email is consistent with another sent last week by Deputy State’s Attorney John Cox to staff in which he announced Shellenberger needed time to “detach a bit” from the office.

Both emails were obtained by The Daily Record and independently confirmed.

The email and Shellenberger’s absence again raise questions about the prosecutor’s health. Those questions have quietly dogged Shellenberger for nearly two years.

In the email, Shellenberger thanks staff for their support and work on the campaign, and expresses hope for the outcome. It was sent to government employees from Shellenberger’s work account.

County and state employees are not barred from working on campaigns. Elected government officials, however, are barred from using government resources for campaign work.

Attempts to reach Shellenberger directly and through his office had not been successful as of Thursday morning.

Late Thursday, Shellenberger’s office sent an unsigned statement to The Daily Record responding to the publication of emails sent to staff. The statement said Shellenberger remains in “consistent contact with the office and is still making management decisions which are necessary and appropriate for the office to continue to run as successfully as it has for his entire tenure.”

“Scott decided it would be prudent to share with members of the office that he had decided to take some time away and wanted to ‘detach a bit,’ ” according to the statement. “This information was then apparently shared with the public when his intent was to internally assure his employees that all would be well. It was certainly not his intention to create rumors or concern among the public about his continued stewardship of the state’s attorney’s office.”

In the statement, Shellenberger plans to “physically return to his office the week after next.”

The statement about Shellenberger’s absence does not address comments in his message to employees citing exhaustion nor his need for “time off to get well.”

The email sent to the paper came an hour after a separate communication was sent to supporters.

In that letter to campaign supporters late Thursday afternoon, Shellenberger thanked those who supported him but did not directly address his absence from the office following the July 19 primary election.

“While the votes are being counted, I have made a conscious decision to remain quiet on social media and not provide comment to the traditional press,” Shellenberger wrote in the letter. “When the vote has been certified, I will be prepared to share my thoughts.”

The email from Shellenberger to his staff this week suggests an open-ended leave of absence, something Cox said was not an inaccurate interpretation.

“We are still in the lead by 1,795 votes with 10,000 to 13,000 left to be counted on Wednesday and Friday,” Shellenberger wrote in his Monday email. “This is very helpful news and I could not have done this without all your hard work. I can’t thank you enough for all you have done and continue to do for the campaign and to make this office run so well.”

As of Thursday morning, Shellenberger held a lead of nearly 2,000 votes over challenger Robbie Leonard. County elections officials scheduled one more day of counting the remaining mail-in and provisional ballots and expect to certify the results Friday.

Leonard, while not mathematically eliminated, would need to garner more than 80% of the remaining vote to overcome Shellenberger’s lead and eke out a victory.

Shellenberger has declined to comment publicly on the election until all of the votes are counted.

In his email, Shellenberger goes on to note the retirement of Deputy State’s Attorney Robin Coffin. Cox said he had assumed Coffin’s duties but said no decision had been made on who would assume his duties as the second deputy.

“I will not be able to make it to Robin’s party on Friday and I will miss seeing you all,” he wrote. “I don’t know when I will return to the office.”