Sunday, July 11, 2010

Now We Know

I was (and still am) on vacation when Gregg Bernstein announced his candidacy for Baltimore State’s Attorney. We should be grateful that such a worthy candidate is willing to take on the rigors of a campaign and the challenges of the city prosecutor’s office. It’s an office that could and should be the shining light of the state but has, particularly since 2002, elevated the image of State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy over her results.

I did catch about half of the Larry Young radio show last Friday, however. It was refreshing to hear Jessamy herself on the show, rather than her ubiquitous spokesperson, Margaret Burns. I tuned in when former Baltimore mayor and state’s attorney Kurt Schmoke was claiming that he travels around now as an academic and sees other prosecutor offices copying Jessamy’s programs.

What programs? Schmoke, who hired Jessamy into the state’s attorney’s office 25 years, is now 22 years removed from that office. He hasn’t a clue.

Then defense attorney Warren Brown called into the show. Upfront about his support of Bernstein, he nevertheless complimented Jessamy for her personal qualities before asking his question: Why has Jessamy never invoked mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders?

Here was her answer:

1. Brown had a personal motive for asking this question because he blamed her for leaking some information that took him out of a previous state’s attorney’s campaign.
2. Brown had just argued for a lenient sentence for one of his clients but the judge sided with the prosecutors.
3. No one will believe that a defense attorney wants her to put his clients away for life.

Brown persisted: Why has Jessamy never invoked mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders?

Jessamy finally responded that Brown was “inaccurate.” She provided no details—no explanation of her policy, no numbers, nothing. And she proudly added that she did not invoke mandatory penalties for “non-violent offenses.”

Anybody listening to this—assuming they weren’t thrown off by her accusations and diversions--would have realized that Jessamy has no handle on whether or when her office pursues mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders. That’s pretty disturbing.

But my ears focused on her admission that she doesn’t pursue mandatory penalties for non-violent offenses. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I assume she was talking about felony drug offenses, not handgun possession charges, which technically are not “violent” offenses but are connected to violence.

But drug-dealing is likewise connected to violence, something I have argued since I began this blog. My recent study of Jessamy’s violent offender program confirmed the connection. Yet Jessamy admitted to a policy that never seeks mandatory penalties for drug-dealing.

I suppose she’s catering to a constituency that favors drug treatment over incarceration. Rehabilitation over prison. As do I. For addicts. For those selling to support an addiction. For young people who made a mistake.

But not for those shooting and intimidating and murdering to make drug profits for gangs and organized crime. When police catch those persons repeatedly dealing, prosecutors need to consider mandatory penalties.

Jessamy doesn’t, by her own admission, make any distinction between dealers. It’s the first tangible result of Bernstein’s challenge. Now we know.


  1. I can tell you that Ms. Jessamy's office does in fact pursue mandatory penalties for non-violent crimes. I have personally witnessed it ( no I am not a criminal). I also believe that the small disconnect between her and the police department is a good thing. Why should she rubber stamp everything the police department brings to her. Why shouldnt she refuse to call certain officers who have a proven track record of dishonesty. I suspect that if Bernstein is elected, he will allow the department to re-institute many of the policies that Omally had, wherein the police are simply allowed to arrest any and everyone and, to make things worse, Bernstein will rubber stamp their actions. Ms. Jessamy has the largest amount of crime in the State and does her job with one of the smallest, if not THE smallest, budget in the State. The police want to harp on resources when, they should take a look at the quality of officers that have been hired inthe last 10 years. No way I see Bernstein having the same passion for this job a nd City that Ms. Jessamy does.

  2. WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT PAGE? Dependent on the wisdom of Kurt Schmoke? He didn't have a clue when he WAS State's Attorney. He and Jessamy represent that school of "crimefighters" who prefer to blame the "system" for producing the criminal rather than the criminal for producing the crime. All praise to Warren Brown, whom I have rarely admired in his capacity as a defense lawyer. You know a man is telling the truth when he raises an issue that cuts against his own interests. The more Jessamy and her office drop the ball, the more freedom Mr. Brown brokers for his clients, who then proceed to bring him new cases and new fees...We have Kurt Schmoke and the City Circuit Court bench to thank for Jessamy. When Kurt was elected mayor in 1987, the judges picked Kurt's deputy, Stu Simms, to take his place as State's Attorney. Stu was re-elected easily in 1990 and 1994. Unfortunately Stu deceived the voters in 1994. No sooner did he coast to re-election than he joined the cabinet of new Governor Parris Glendening. The judges in their wisdom then chose Stu's own deputy, Patricia Jessamy, to succeed him. Do you see the incredible arrogance in all this? Kurt Schmoke, elected fair-and-square in 1982 by awakening "the sleeping giant," Baltimore's black majority, to defeat then-incumbent State's Attorney Bill Swisher, transformed the State's Attorney's office into a monarchical succession. Gregg Bernstein is if nothing else (I don't know him) a gutsy guy, willing to contest the conventional wisdom that, despite her sixteen years of lies, dishonesty, and incompetence, all Jessamy really needs to be re-elected are her race and gender. There was a time when it was a low-down dirty shame that only white males need apply for public office in this town. Now we have constructed its mirror-opposite.