Sunday, January 9, 2011
A Little Too Cozy
The installation of Gregg Bernstein as Baltimore State's Attorney last week marked a promising new day for the city's criminal justice system. We can look forward to new energy, new ideas, greater competence, and the end of the destructive relationship between police and prosecutors that bogged down progress.
But upon reading my newspaper the morning after his ceremonial swearing-in, I felt a slight chill go down my spine. The Sun article reported the hiring of Bernsteins's new communications director, Mark Cheshire. The chill I felt wasn't about Cheshire, of whom I know nothing. It came from who selected him, and how.
I must confess that all through the election process I ignored the fact that Bernstein's wife, Sheryl Goldstein, heads the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice. Hired by Sheila Dixon over three years ago, she created GunStat, a program that tracks the progress of gun cases, and worked hard for progress despite an ineffective, hostile state's attorney's office. She now exercises considerable influence over Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld and real control over the policies and message of the police department.
Goldstein encouraged her husband to challenge the incumbent state's attorney, and took a leave of absence to help run his campaign effort. I felt grateful to both of them for effecting the change we are about to see. I didn't pay attention to the conflict of interest it could raise.
After the election Goldstein's hand in selecting Bernstein's top assistants was obvious and inevitable. But both of them have also taken pains to tell others that they will be operating independently. Of course, this is nearly impossible. What exactly will they be talking about when they go home together at the end of each day? The weather?
It was good, though, that they seemed aware of the danger of too close a connection, of the need for independence. And then I read about how they picked Bernstein's new spokesman.
You see, they formed a panel that consisted of the following persons:
2. Elizabeth Embry, who worked closely with Goldstein as an attorney in the city law department on policy issues. After a brief stint elsewhere, Embry took Goldstein's place as the Mayor's point person on criminal justice when Goldstein took a leave of absence to help run her husband's campaign. When Goldstein returned, she sent Embry over to Bernstein to be his policy person.
3. Anthony Guglielmi, the police department's communications director and spokesperson.
4. Warren Brown, a defense attorney who worked on Bernstein's campaign.
When Cheshire interviewed with the panel Goldstein, according to the Sun, recused herself, making it perfectly clear--as if the others didn't already know it--that she knew Cheshire and Cheshire was her man.
So the police department, as in Goldstein, picked this guy for the State's Attorney's Office. He owes his job to her. He will stay on her message, which is the message of the mayor and the police department.
Oy vey. I am all for police-prosecutor cooperation, and have lamented its demise for years. But there does need to be some light between the two agencies. They are not one and the same, and that's a good thing. Prosecutors need to act both as a check on police and as an independent evaluator of policy.
I don't see any independence here. In fact, I see something even a little worse: the pretense of independence. A transparent little charade suggesting that the appearance of independence, not actual independence, is the goal.
Bernstein should have picked his own spokesperson. He didn't need his wife to do it for him. And if he wants to be as independent as one can be while married to the person who is now the most powerful figure in Baltimore criminal justice, he would bring in some people whom she doesn't know or with whom she even disagrees, to give him a much needed different perspective when making his decisions.
Partnership between two truly independent agencies working towards the same goal is good. Pretend partnership that masks a centralized control over police and prosecutors isn't.