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.

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