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With historic victory, Brown plans expansion of Md. attorney general’s role

Democrat Anthony Brown has declared victory, becoming the first Black attorney general in Maryland. (AP Photo /Julio Cortez)

Incoming Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown said he plans to substantially increase the office’s functions to help investigate crimes that extend beyond individual counties and examine patterns and practices of police misconduct should they arise.

He will also seek statutory authority to bring civil suits in cases of alleged discrimination in housing and between sellers and buyers or businesses and vendors. Brown also intends to appoint a lawyer to serve as an ombudsman to ensure the office’s representation of state agencies or other actions do not have the unintended effect of harming minorities.

Brown said he knows these initiatives will require additional state funding, as the office’s 12-member organized crime unit will need more lawyers and attorneys will be needed to investigate police misconduct and handle discrimination claims.

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Brown said he was not prepared to state exactly how many lawyers he will need for these programs but is confident the General Assembly – which convenes shortly after he takes office — will be receptive.

“Go big or go home,” Brown said last week. “You’ve got to hit the ground running.”

Brown declared victory shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday after amassing a strong lead over Republican Michael Peroutka. With 2,000 of 2,074 precincts reporting shortly before midnight, Brown had a 60-40% lead over his opponent, according to unofficial results posted on the Maryland State Board of Elections website.

If those results hold, Brown, 60, would become Maryland’s first Black attorney general — a post once held by Roger B. Taney, who as chief justice wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott opinion that Blacks have no standing to sue in federal court.

“It is certainly long overdue,” Brown said of his place in history.

“I have a unique responsibility to the African American community,” he added. “We have a unique responsibility … to really focus on equity.”

The responsibility includes placing a “focus on Marylanders who have been overburdened and underrepresented” while ensuring “fair justice and treatment under the law” for each resident of the state, Brown said.

“They are not mutually exclusive,” he added, stating that equity benefits everyone.

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Brown will succeed retiring Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a fellow Democrat.

Brown, an outgoing U.S. representative for Prince George’s County, said he plans to “affirm my commitment to the men and women who work at the Office of Attorney General” on his first day by pressing for greater resources for what has been called Maryland’s largest law firm.

“I am looking forward to what I hope will be empowering leadership, visionary leadership,” Brown said.

The Iraq war veteran said he will be “a hands-on manager” but willing to delegate authority to the office’s division leaders and chief counsels for the state’s agencies. He will also have two chief deputies, whose names he was not prepared to disclose.

“I cut my teeth in the American military,” said Brown, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

“We delegate down as much responsibility and authority as we can,” he added. “I will establish a process where certain decisions will be delegated down …and some will be made by me.”

Brown declined to elaborate on which issues he will handle himself but said he “will stay apprised and be fully involved in the decisions that we make” and not micromanage.

“The office will be able to do its job without me reviewing every filing,” he added.

This unwillingness to micromanage extends to his intended expansion of the office’s organized crime unit: Brown said his intention is not to encroach on the authority of local state’s attorneys but to assist them when criminal activity extends beyond their borders.

“There are things that they can’t do that the Attorney General’s Office can do (when) there are multijurisdictional issues,” Brown said. “We can bring resources to the table.”

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Brown said his office would take a prominent role in investigating alleged patterns and practices of police misconduct, with an eye toward uncovering the causes and developing ways to improve officer performance and transparency.

But to avoid conflicts of interest, the office would have to retain an outside law firm to handle the investigation or defense of the law enforcement department if it is a state agency, Brown added.

The incoming attorney general said he will lobby the General Assembly this session to give his office the authority to bring housing and marketplace discrimination clams, a power District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine recently wielded to reach a $10 million settlement with three real estate firms that were allegedly unwilling to rent to low-income individuals who receive governmental assistance.

“We need clear authority to bring traditional civil rights actions,” Brown said. “We want to send the strong message that in Maryland discrimination is not tolerated.”

Discrimination, even if unintended, will also not be tolerated in the attorney general’s prosecution or defense of civil litigation or in the office’s other activities, Brown said with regard to his planned appointment of a chief equity officer to oversee the agency.

The ombudsman will ask of each action by the office whether it will “promote equity or exacerbate inequities,” Brown said.

Brown will likely inherit from Frosh two cases now pending in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that challenge Maryland’s ban on assault-style firearms and the state’s licensing requirements for would-be handgun purchasers. The losing side in these cases – Bianchi v. Frosh and Maryland Shall Issue v. Hogan – will likely seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court sometime next year.

“We will vigorously defend the laws of Maryland that are challenged in the federal and state courts,” Brown said.

He added his office would also be active in filing or joining briefs in support of Supreme Court litigants in cases that affect the interests of Marylanders, such as backing efforts to ensure racial or ethnic diversity at public universities.

“Maryland’s Office of Attorney General will be actively engaged in litigation that is national,” Brown said. “We will look at the opportunity to affirmatively bring or defend actions that involve the rights, interests and privileges of Marylanders.”