Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dawson Tragedy and its Failed Response

Just as I was about to write a blog on state senator Nathaniel McFadden and the 2002 Dawson murders, presto! There he was all over the news
, talking about the Dawson murders.

But my perspective differs radically from McFadden's. He accused state's attorney candidate Gregg Bernstein of exploiting the deaths of the Dawsons by airing an ad featuring the former witness protection coordinator for incumbent Pat Jessamy. In it, she criticized Jessamy's lack of effort to protect the Dawsons.

McFadden, who has endorsed Jessamy, railed about the impact of the ad on the Dawson relatives, even though he hadn't talked to any of them. And the one relative who could be contacted by the Baltimore Sun wasn't upset at all.
So who was exploiting whom?

But I had something much more fundamental in mind for this blog.

When the seven Dawsons were firebombed to death in retaliation for reporting on drug-dealing activity, it was Senator McFadden, who represented their neighborhood, putting himself in the forefront of the movement to 'do something.' He helped spearhead and fund the creation of the "War Room" to identify and focus upon violent offenders, and was visible at press conferences and tours when the War Room began operation.

But politicians move on, and so did McFadden once the spotlight faded. It apparently doesn't matter to him now that his response to the terrible Dawson tragedy went down the toilet
for lack of effort by the person he endorses, Jessamy. He shows the same lack of courage as the other city politicians who have either endorsed Jessamy or said nothing, even when in a position to know better.

But the Dawsons were murdered in McFadden's very own district. He told his constituents that he found a way to improve their safety through the War Room. And then paid it no attention whatsoever. Every year its funding got renewed without a meaningful review by McFadden or any other legislator. Frankly, nobody cared. They all moved on, until Bernstein's ad appeared.

But the War Room, the response to the Dawson tragedy, failed city residents, and one need look no further than the high profile murders of off-duty police officer Troy Chesley and Stephen Pitcairn to see it. I have written on these cases before in
Baltimore's Failed War Room and Shame on Who? But to sum it up briefly:

Brandon Grimes, the murderer of Chesley, was out on bail for two handgun cases at the time of the murder. Although notified by the War Room of his arrest on the second handgun charge while pending the first handgun case, Jessamy's gun unit did nothing to revoke his first bail. War Room arrest notices specifically urged trial prosecutors to try to revoke bail in cases like this, but were ignored in every instance.

The accused murderer of Pitcairn, John Wagner, had been in custody a few months before the murder for a robbery that was caught on videotape. Although he met War Room criteria, prosecutors dropped the case at the first hearing because the victim was not there, even though he wasn't needed. And prosecutors allowed Wagner's probation violation hearing to be dismissed without ever bringing the videotape into evidence.
Had probation judge John Howard seen that videotape perhaps he wouldn't have let Wagner go.

Jessamy has been boasting this campaign about having a unit dedicated to probation hearings. But she had always had prosecutors attend probation hearings. What was new was that Martin O'Malley, as mayor, had given Jessamy funding for four new prosecutors specifically to focus on violent offenders at probation hearings.

As head of the War Room, I was excited. I had sent War Room prosecutors on several occasions to probation hearings, but could not do it on a systematic basis due to staff limitations. I immediately requested a meeting with Jessamy's Circuit Court administrator and presented a plan to introduce evidence normally used only for trials directly at probation hearings for War Room offenders.

Jessamy's administrator refused. First she said she didn't have enough staff because she was supposed to cover all probation hearings. In other words, her vision was to simply do what had been done before with different personnel. When I persisted, she refused again because "the judges won't like it."

Finally I said I would do it myself. Only to have her prohibit War Room prosecutors from taking evidence to probation hearings. Yes, that really happened.

Now Jessamy claims that she does focus on violent offenders at probation hearings. That began to be true in recent years for federal targets, targets like Damian Wilson. But for state War Room offenders like Wagner, well, we can see the results for ourselves.
It's still business as usual. The kind of business that was done at the time the Dawsons were murdered, way back in 2002.

But that's okay with McFadden. Heck, it's even okay that Jessamy walked out on his bill to strengthen penalties against illegal handguns. Because McFadden is doing politics as usual. And politics is more concerned with the perception of results, not their reality.

When Gregg Bernstein brings up tragic murders to illustrate why we need a new state's attorney, that's not exploitation. That's providing information to voters about the very person who is charged, along with the police, of making the city safer. It's information that Jessamy has controlled for years, and that McFadden and his political colleagues have enabled to remain in the dark.

No Accountability, As Usual

I did not work with Jessamy's witness protection unit and cannot provide any insight as to how it worked with respect to the Dawson case. But I hear the same old failure to assume accountability coming from the mouth of Margaret Burns, Jessamy's spokesperson.

Ditanya Madden, Jessamy's witness protection coordinator, told the Sun that the Dawson family protection needs were never brought to her attention.
According to the Sun's interview of Burns, that's because "Madden had set up a system where only those families who agreed to receive assistance would fill out forms for Madden's unit."

So Madden had set up the system all her own? Either Jessamy agreed with it or exercised so little supervision she didn't know about it. One way or another, Jessamy enabled a witness protection unit to operate without having all protection issues brought to its attention.

Perhaps that's justifiable. But to put the responsibility on Madden the way Burns did, isn't. It's exactly the lack of accountability that characterizes Jessamy and her performance as state's attorney.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just the Facts, Please

The Baltimore Sun editors weighed in on the city state's attorney election last week after fund-raising reports showed substantial support for challenger Gregg Bernstein. In it, they made sure to blunt Bernstein's two major criticisms of incumbent Pat Jessamy without addressing any of her own claims.

First they said that the whole system, not just Jessamy, is to blame for low conviction rates. (I will address that one soon.) They also surmised that voters don't care about her poor relationship with police commissioners these last 10 years because they re-elected her in 2006 (over an unknown candidate) and must therefore like her "feisty" attitude. They even mentioned their own endorsement of Jessamy four years ago, failing to note their emphatic endorsement of another candidate the election before that.

But my favorite part was how they urged voters to make up their minds based on "all the facts." That's funny, because the Sun has done so little over the years to give us facts about Jessamy's performance. Instead it has focused on conflict-based reporting, the kind that it now wants voters to ignore.

The editors cautioned voters about making too much of yard sign controversies and Jessamy's ill-advised analogy comparing the city courts to public schools. They asked who "would do the best job making the city's streets safer?"

That's the right question. But what guidance are we getting from the Sun? Not much before that editorial. And after it, a front-page article on the race factor, as if that's news to anybody when white and black candidates square off. But for those voters more interested in performance over race, what "facts" and "evidence" does the Sun intend to offer up?

For years now local media outlets have fed off stories spooned to them by Jessamy's office. In Feeding the Press I chronicled an incident where Jessamy spokesperson Margaret Burns extolled an arrest that, upon closer examination, revealed the opposite of what she intended. It showed that Jessamy's office could have but failed to do anything to take a violent criminal off the street prior to his beating up two women. Doesn't that theme sound familiar?

That was two years ago, and nothing has changed. Jessamy issued a press release last week boasting about a prison sentence one Damian Wilson got for violating probation. It seems Wilson was a target of the federal Violent Repeat Offender (VRO) program after citizens complained about his drug-dealing activity, and city prosecutors were tasked with doing something because he was on a city probation.

But a little work on the facts behind the press release reveals that Wilson is a classic example of a revolving door criminal...that his belated incarceration should be credited to the leadership of federal prosecutors...and that Jessamy did nothing meaningful on her own.

Fortunately the City Paper did the work, and here's the story: Wilson accumulated a series of arrests beginning at age 18. (Who knows what his juvenile record told prosecutors.) Car theft, drug dealing, drug dealing with a gun, handgun possession, resisting arrest, assault, armed robbery--the typical pattern of a dangerous offender. None of the criminal charges resulted in convictions. But in 2002, at age 28, Wilson was finally convicted of drug dealing and got--what else?--probation, with six years in prison suspended.

Wilson went out and picked up some assault and harassment charges against his girlfriend, which prosecutors dropped. But police nabbed him again for selling drugs. And all he got was a 2004 plea deal that bundled his probation violation with his new felony drug case for a grand total of two years.

In 2006 Wilson was convicted of driving on a suspended license with no consequence, followed by some more domestic violence incidents. But in 2007 police nailed him again selling drugs, and this time he got...

12 years! Can it be? Nope, 11 years were suspended, and he served the one year he got while waiting in jail for his case to resolve.

Wilson was arrested several more times, including another attempt to sell drugs, and was convicted on two minor charges with little consequence. The judge who had him on probation issued a warrant, but Wilson was allowed to stay on the street while he racked up his arrests. It wasn't until May, 2010 that another warrant for violating probation was issued and Wilson finally put away. And only because the federally-led VRO program got involved.

all of this fiasco Jessamy's fault? Probably not. But with Wilson's criminal history staring her in the face she allowed multiple plea bargains on drug-selling cases that kept him on the street and criminally active. And did nothing to violate his probation as he piled up more arrests for two more years.

Facts like these can be found everywhere. They are why Bernstein is running, why so many have contributed so much to his campaign so fast, and why the police commissioner put a Bernstein campaign sign in his yard.

But it doesn't take experts to recognize these facts. Citizens in the community can see the evidence that the Sun still seems to be searching for, when characters like Wilson keep showing up on their street corners.

They know who's not making them safer.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Live Blog of the State's Attorney Debate

Today WYPR Fm 88.1 is hosting a debate between challenger Gregg Bernstein and incumbent Patricia Jessamy for the state's attorney for Baltimore City. The state's attorney is the top prosecutor in the city. My intent is to report on the discussion as it goes along, and then offer some thoughts and observations.

12:03: Dan Rodricks, the moderator, introduces them by saying that Bernstein claims that Jessamy has the lowest rate of conviction in the state and that it's time for a change, while Jessamy touts her record on gun legislation and repeat violent offenders.

12:20: Rodricks, after reviewing their qualifications, clarifies that this is not a formal debate. He plans to throw out some questions and let callers call-in. He asks Jessamy why they should re-elect her, and she says it is to continue the progress and partnerships that she has made. She says that her focus on violent offenders has been proven by "commitments to the Department of Correction," that is, by the numbers of offenders sent to prison by Baltimore. She is running to "dispel the lies" because Baltimore is sending more people to prison than anywhere else.

She goes on to say that she formed a gun team of prosecutors, created a wiretap team, and cross-designated prosecutors as federal prosecutors. "I am tough, I am smart, I am truthful."

Bernstein replies that Jessamy over course of her tenure has "concede[d] our streets" to criminals that revolve through the doors of justice. "I will take personal responsibility" to convict criminals he says, and will not engage in the blame game. When asked how he knows that Baltimore has the lowest conviction rate in the state, he cites an Abell Foundation report on low conviction rates by juries when Baltimore city was compared with other counties.

Jessamy challenged that report as being "unscientific" and returned to her claim that prison statistics is the measuring stick.

12:38: Bernstein replies that her own statistics only show a 45% conviction rate in gun cases.

Jessamy just called Bernstein a liar, saying that "he continues to lie." She doesn't say how and in what way.

Rodricks asked Jessamy how the city would become a "police state" if Bernstein is elected, as she claimed. She begins to ramble and talks about the "natural tension" between police and prosecutors and their different burdens of proof before saying that Bernstein would be a "rubber stamp" for the police.

A citizen e-mails a question to Bernstein about how would we know that he wouldn't be a rubber stamp. Bernstein says he would work independently but also cooperatively with the police. He points out that Jessamy has, at most, successfully prosecuted 1-2 police officers over the years. But that anyone knows the two agencies need to work together.

Jessamy again says Bernstein is lying. When asked by Rodricks to compare her relationship with Bealefeld to past commissioners, she says her relationship with Bealefeld was "outstanding" until this campaign.

A caller named Marty says that it's well-known that the best place to get charged is in Baltimore, because they get the best deals and the least fight from prosecutors. Jessamy goes on again to say that most commitments to prison come from Baltimore. Rodricks points out that that could be caused by high crime or other factors. Jessamy repeated her assertion and called statements that her conviction rate is low "lies."

Bernstein brings up the Pitcairn murder case. He spoke to the witness that Jessamy said was uncooperative. Prosecutors only spoke to him once, and gave up at a preliminary hearing when they didn't even need a witness. Bernstein says this is an example of failing to properly focus efforts.

Jessamy: "He doesn't even understand how the system works." Jessamy says "it would have been better" if police had taken a statement from the victim. And says she wanted to get more witness intimidation legislation from Annapolis.

12:41: Caller from Bolton Hill asks Bernstein about citizen concerns about police conduct and lenient judges. How would Bernstein deal with that? Bernstein says we have to start somewhere, and he would become more strategic. He has watched prosecutors fail to do that, they ask for the same sentence over and over and this makes it hard for judges to make their decisions.

12:48: Jessamy again says that Bernstein has no idea what he is talking about, and that she has units in her office for certain types of cases that know exactly what they are doing.

Jessamy says they have a way to identify who the "worst of the worst" is because she is the "technology queen." She says she connects all the agencies with technology and has won an award.

Bernstein says if she is the queen, her kingdom is in shambles. Her prosecutors don't have voicemail, or blackberries. But the way to target the worst of the worst is to work with the police to identify who they are and to give prosecutors the resources they need.

12:51: Jessamy says her prosecutors identify the worst of the worst at Central Booking. Bernstein responds that the War Room, the program she is talking about, has a conviction rate of only 35%. When Rodricks asks how he knows that, he cites my study of War Room offenders. Jessamy can be heard laughing, but can't respond because Rodricks takes a call.

12:58: In response to a call from a caller, Jessamy touts her domestic violence program and how successful it is. Bernstein states that this represents a disconnect with reality, because 80% of domestic violence cases are dismissed.

Jessamy says we have to look behind the statistics. And that there are elements of the law that have hampered prosecuting domestic violence cases.

A caller asks how Bernstein is going to put people in jail without evidence. Bernstein says he believes in innocent until proven guilty. And that his focus would be on targeting the most violent criminals within the context of the law and the burden of proof. Jessamy says she is already doing that.

In response to an e-mail, Jessamy says she doesn't try cases and has 200 lawyers to do that. She could make "a splash" by going to court but manages her office and knows everything that is going on. In answer to a question about his credentials, Bernstein touts his record as a trial attorney.

Debate concluded.

My observations and comments:

First of all, whew. This was my first experience with live blogging and it was a challenge. I would suggest to anyone interested in this debate and in reaching their own conclusions as to what was said and how the candidates did, to please go to the WYPR website. I personally thought it was enlightening.

When Gregg Bernstein made his opening statement it sounded like he was reading from text, which diminished the message. But as he went on he was clearly the more relaxed and confident of the two. He cited statistics, had answers as to where he got those statistics and appeared familiar and conversant with what is going on in Jessamy's office.

And he continued to repeat that the key to being effective was proper strategy. As a matter of substance, he was exactly right.

I will caution him about this, though: if he thinks he is going to come in as state's attorney and suddenly get all his staff blackberries, he has never dealt with local government and limited budgets. That is a learning curve he will have to master quickly. To Jessamy's credit, she has dealt with a stubborn city bureaucracy for a long time and probably got about as much out it and in finding alternative sources of funding as it was possible to get. But her problem has been, as Bernstein points out, one of strategy and execution of that strategy.

Jessamy spoke in rapid cadence as though she felt stressed or lacked the time to get out all she wanted to say. Because she often used terms and concepts better understood by those within the system, I wonder how much the average citizen "got" what she was saying.

I particularly wonder how the average citizen reacted to the number of times she said Bernstein and others were "lying" and spreading "lies." I find the constant use of these terms against those who disagree with her disturbing. Her own "proof" of her success in convicting violent criminals lay solely in prison statistics. One could point out, as Rodricks did, that prison statistics might just indicate there's that much more crime in Baltimore. Talk about being an "unscientific" measure of her effectiveness.

But Jessamy insisted that those who challenge her on her conviction rate are "lying." For me, this method of debate just validates the view that Jessamy doesn't get along with people. She can't agree to disagree, or to learn from the perspective of other people. They are all liars.

Her other main retort was that Bernstein did not "understand" how the system worked. For example, she said that in the robbery case mentioned by Bernstein, she needed the victim to come to court to testify under oath at the preliminary hearing so that they could have his statement for later.

What an incredibly shocking explanation. No prosecutor wants his or her witness to testify at a preliminary hearing, subject to cross-examination and the probability of having minor differences in their later testimony used against them later at trial. Based on this debate, it is clear that Bernstein understands prosecutorial strategy far better than Jessamy.

I want to say something about the War Room. When Bernstein mentioned my report, Jessamy laughed. Perhaps she would have called me a liar, too, had she had the chance. But here's the rub: where are Jessamy's statistics? She has had the War Room case outcome data in her own database. But she never, ever looked at it or published it. And when given the chance to comment on my report by the City Paper, refused to do so.

Finally, her comment that her relationship with Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld had been "outstanding" prior to Bernstein's campaign may have been the most revealing of all. Because in my opinion, she may actually believe this. It shows just how much authority she has ceded to her media spokesperson Margaret Burns, and how she refuses to believe that her tactics have sabotaged her relationship with the police. (It also demonstrates how professional Bealefeld has been that Jessamy thought their relationship was great until now.)

Pat Jessamy lives in a world where she does everything right, her critics are all liars and ignoramuses, and there must now be a conspiracy against her because things were hunky-dory with Bealefeld until Bernstein came along.

As I said, I found the debate illuminating.

Last post at 2:09 p.m.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The State's Attorney's August 10th Press Conference

The following is a fictional account of the Baltimore state's attorney's August 10th press conference:

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's Opening Statement:

Citizens of Baltimore, I know what you want. Accountability. Integrity. Effort. Results. That is why I am calling today for an investigation of Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld.

Reporter: I don't understand. You want an investigation of whether, while in uniform, he asked a community activist/politician to meet with Gregg Bernstein, your challenger for state's attorney?

Jessamy: That's right. When the people ask for accountability, I make sure the police give it to them.

Reporter: You once asked all the employees of your office to sign a birthday card for display at your annual fund-raising birthday party. And your office spokeswoman once appeared at a woman's Republican club to denounce Mayor O'Malley's crime statistics, boasting how you were going to expose him. How do you to reconcile your position today with your using city employees to further your political agenda?

Jessamy: That's different. The people elected me. I can do whatever I want.

Reporter: What about your own accountability? Why didn't you take responsibility when your office dropped robbery charges against John Wagner a few months before his arrest for murdering Stephen Pitcairn? You claimed "no victim, no case," but you had a victim who worked for the city and a videotape of the robbery. You even dropped the case at a preliminary hearing, before the victim was even needed.

I am the state's attorney. A case is only as good as I say it is.

Reporter: You are suggesting today that the police commissioner isn't telling the truth about whether he was wearing his uniform when he spoke to a citizen about Bernstein. What about Zach Sowers, who was beaten into a coma by some robbers? Your spokesperson claimed after the trial and after he died that he only fell down between a couple of cars.

Jessamy: The police lied and the jury lied. That man was sleeping like a baby. When his whiny wife criticized my handling of the case, I had to tell the truth.

Reporter: You say you want results. Commissioner Bealefeld has presided over the largest, most sustained drop in violent crime these last few years. On the other hand, the program with which you were entrusted, the violent repeat offender program (War Room), failed because you ignored it. Can you comment on that?

Jessamy: I get credit for all violent crime reductions because I am the state's attorney. Unless crime goes up, of course, in which case the police get the blame. As for the War Room, no one else cared that it failed, not until that Gregg Bernstein brought it up. But I just issued a press release about a war room case that blames the judge, so I am not ignoring it any longer.

Reporter: You have openly criticized and fought with four police commissioners. Can we expect anything different if you are re-elected?

Jessamy: Absolutely not. You see, the only way I can get elected is to pretend that I am protecting the public. And if I can't protect them from criminals like John Wagner, then I will protect them from the police. And if I am re-elected, just wait until I get back at Bealefeld. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Reporter: How will you protect citizens from the police?

Jessamy: First, when police officers make bad arrests or fail to investigate cases to the extent we need, I will publicly blame them and the commissioner. It's a whole lot easier and much more satisfying than trying to work with them to fix the problem. Then when I have sufficiently undermined the public's confidence in all police officers, I will watch juries acquit criminals and blame the police again.

Reporter: What is your most significant accomplishment?

Jessamy: Working to get new gun and gang legislation.

Reporter: So why did you walk out on a Senate committee hearing on gun legislation?

Jessamy: Because I should have had the credit. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake didn't give me the credit. She gave O'Malley the credit. [Getting red in the face, stamping foot.] I should have had the credit! And if I don't get the credit, what good is the legislation?

Reporter: Is investigating the police commissioner for speaking to someone about supporting your opponent the most serious topic on your agenda this campaign?

Jessamy: It most certainly is. I need to get on camera. Gregg Bernstein is raising so much money--don't ask me how--that even appearing ridiculous is better than no publicity at all.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jessamy's One-Sided, Never-Ending Feud

Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld puts a "Gregg Bernstein for State's Attorney" campaign sign in his yard. Incumbent State's Attorney Pat Jessamy calls the sign "divisive."

And the Sun provides this assessment:
"The two top law enforcement officials--Jessamy is elected and Bealefeld is appointed--have feuded for years over policing strategies, quality of arrests and investigations, and whether prosecutors are aggressive enough in pursuing cases and jailing offenders."

Wrong, so wrong, and it's high time the Sun quit repeating it. Bealefeld hasn't feuded with anybody. He's been nothing but publicly respectful and privately as cooperative as it is possible to be with Jessamy over the years.

Jessamy feuded with Mayor Martin O'Malley. She expressed herself by attacking his three police commissioners prior to Bealefeld. Remember 2006, when Jessamy shouted at a raucous public meeting how she wasn't going to let the police "trample on the Constitution"?

But when O'Malley left for Annapolis, the incoming Dixon administration tried very hard to work with Jessamy. This included not only Bealefeld when he became police commissioner but also Sheryl Goldstein, director of
the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.

When Goldstein was first hired, a third party suggested that Goldstein and I have lunch. I didn't know Goldstein, but I was asked to give her some perspective on Baltimore's criminal justice system.

I gave her my honest, gloomy assessment. Goldstein asked for the solution.

"We need a new state's attorney," I told her.

Goldstein didn't buy it. Off she went, full of energy, enthusiasm and optimism about her ability to work with Jessamy and effect change. The way I once felt.

But after three years, Goldstein's
experience with Jessamy led her to the same conclusion I had reached: we need a new state's attorney. Goldstein's husband, Gregg Bernstein, an eminently qualified candidate, filed to run against Jessamy, and Goldstein took a leave of absence to help.

Jessamy's campaign boils down to this: Crime has gone down and she is the "only constant." And she will protect us citizens from the police. (That is not a misprint. She talks more about how she will stop the police than about how she will stop criminals.)

But her real slogan should be this:
"A decade of attacking four police commissioners and the only constant has been me."

No good prosecutor rubber stamps police actions. The question is how do they handle their differences: behind the scenes, with mutual respect and a desire to keep improving? Or the Jessamy way, by publicly blaming the other?

Jessamy has posted articles on her website about cases dropped because of police failure to appear. (She doesn't mention how many cases she drops due to prosecutor failure to try.)

When an innocent teenager was kept in jail for months, Jessamy blamed the police by saying that they, and not she, have "charging rights." Except that she has charging rights and she charged the case.

She even trotted out the "lack of charging rights" excuse to absolve herself of any blame for unfounded rape reports...even though she had to know there was a problem and should have gone to Bealefeld about it.

She uses the term "legal insufficiency" to make people think that police aren't making good cases. I wrote an entire article about how Jessamy lies about "legally insufficient" cases. Here's just one example to illustrate: I once dropped a case because it was minor and documented my reason. But because the defendant was high-profile, and Jessamy wanted to embarrass the police, she told the media the case was "legally insufficient."

"Uncooperative witnesses" is another favorite Jessamy excuse, one that's especially tough to evaluate objectively. But it was exposed by the background of John Wagner, the man accused of stabbing Stephen Pitcairn to death. For Jessamy, a witness saying he doesn't want to come to court is a good reason to drop a robbery case without further effort.

At first the "uncooperative witness" excuse may not seem like police-blaming, but wait: Jessamy excused herself from not forcing the witness to court by blaming the police for not getting a taped statement from him. It's astonishing, since one has nothing to do with the other. And Jessamy didn't care that police had a VIDEOTAPE of the robbery, far better than any recorded witness statement.

These are just a few examples. Over and over, Jessamy has publicly blamed the police or planted media stories to make them look bad. When Jessamy did it to O'Malley's police commissioners, it was part of her feud with O'Malley.

But when she does it to Bealefeld now, it's to cover her own failures. Bealefeld, Goldstein, Mayor Sheila Dixon, and now Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake--none of them engaged Jessamy in a feud, and all kept their own disagreements private.

But now there's a chance to change things. Now there's an opportunity to bring positive leadership and new energy to this city's criminal justice system. Goldstein and her husband Gregg Bernstein have created that opportunity. And with the stakes so high, Bealefeld refuses to stand completely on the sidelines.

When Jessamy calls Bealefeld's campaign sign "divisive" she is reaping what she sowed,the consequences of her own blame game. But
Bealefeld didn't put up that sign to fuel a feud. It's much more fundamental than that.

Because anyone with inside experience with Jessamy--including Goldstein and Bealefeld--know what I know: that however hard they try, Jessamy won't work with them. She won't change her prosecutorial practices, won't eliminate her excuses, won't stop grabbing credit without the work, and won't show leadership.

And if re-elected, she promises more of the same.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Man Without Principles

When Baltimore city councilman Martin O’Malley first began making a name for himself in the late 1990s by criticizing the police department and advocating “zero tolerance” on crime, I asked a co-worker who knew him what she thought of him. Did he really care or was he just an ambitious young politician?

“Martin O’Malley doesn’t have a principled bone in his body,” came her reply.

So I was perplexed to learn later that she was driving voters to the polls to vote for him as mayor. “I like his positions on the issues,” she explained.

Her particular issue was gay rights. And after O’Malley was elected mayor, his housing commissioner, Paul Graziano, made news by referring to gays as “faggots” and making other hostile remarks before being arrested for disorderly conduct in a bar. O’Malley shrugged it off as the product of alcohol.

Had Graziano used the “n” word or made his remarks about blacks, he’d have been fired on the spot. But gays? Well, they didn’t carry the same political weight.

Pick up a scorpion who needs your help, expect to get stung.

O’Malley sure stung Baltimore when he praised State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy last week. As I pointed out recently, this is the man who publicly insulted her and later gave her a fat raise to entice others to run against her.

Funny thing is, perhaps she could have been a more effective prosecutor had he stretched out the hand of partnership when first elected mayor. If he had invited her into his criminal justice policy circle, sought her opinion, and worked with her on innovative ways to end the revolving door of justice for violent criminals.

Instead, he played the part of Lone Ranger come to rescue the system and gave her the back of his hand from the get-go. He tried to bully everyone else into doing things his way, too. He insulted not just Jessamy but the chief judge of the District Court by sending her a cartoon “stick figure” drawing of his plan to reduce caseloads (so she could understand it.) And according to Jessamy, he carried around cardboard cut-outs of Jessamy and
U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiaggo to mock them for not personally coming to meetings of the city criminal justice coordinating council. (Of course, he stopped going himself once he ramped up his gubernatorial efforts.)

Though he claimed success, O'Malley largely failed in his criminal justice agenda, but that’s a whole other story. His biggest failure was in making an enemy of the state’s attorney, who learned from him how to bully her partner, lay off blame, and grab credit.

And in making her an enemy, he helped create a state's attorney who is obsessed with her image and disconnected from the realities and practices of her office. She’s a poor manager who does not want to be told bad news and surrounds herself with yes-people. And as her profile rises with each successive election her accountability diminishes accordingly, to where it's now about zero. We will never, ever hear Jessamy say what Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld said the other day, that he was sorry he did not protect Stephen Pitcairn and the community.

I’ve spent over two years writing about issues that O’Malley as mayor knew were true. The leniency of judges and parole commissioners towards violent offenders, the unhealthy relationship between Jessamy and the police, the failure of Jessamy to change the prosecutorial culture that contributes heavily to the revolving cycle of violence.

But like a scorpion, O’Malley has turned on the city. When asked to weigh in on her performance, STING! He tells the Sun what a great job she's done. Here are some of his blatant lies:

“We have done a lot of positive things together.”

“[W]e talk every day.”

“…the higher level of functioning especially with the War Room…”

“I believe her leadership and the performance of that office has been a part of why Baltimore has been able to achieve historic reductions these last three years.”

And when asked if he was endorsing Jessamy, O’Malley said “I anticipate…yeah, stay tuned.”

It’s the Twilight Zone. I guess his close race with Ehrlich for re-election sent him spinning off into the alternative reality of politics. O’Malley praises Jessamy so he can share credit as governor for crime reduction "these last three years." And he doesn’t want to offend pro-Jessamy leadership and voters in Baltimore whom he may need for his re-election.

So he insults the intelligence of Baltimoreans instead. He’s fooling no one about his opinion of and relationship with Jessamy. And his endorsement of her or vice versa won’t have anything to do with their respective elections. He of all people has forgotten that crime is a local issue.

But he revealed that my co-worker’s assessment, made a dozen years ago, was and remains absolutely accurate. His own political ambition means more to him than anything else, including the city that launched his political career and helped carry him to Annapolis. He would give us more Pat Jessamy if it means he still gets to be governor.