The Schmoking Out of Stuart Simms


October 05, 1990|By Hal Riedl

NOW COMES the Baltimore state's attorney, Stuart Simms, humbly beseeching Judge David Mitchell to grant postponements in a number of cases because the juvenile division of the state's attorney's office is understaffed. A peeved Judge Mitchell observes that ''There is a move for the city to divest itself of the Circuit Court,'' and asks, ''Is this an attempt to create a crisis?''

Mr. Simms tells The Evening Sun, ''The budgetary authority [in this city] needs to understand that we're not here in the courthouse making Jello.''

The crime epidemic is generating a gentlemen's disagreement between Mayor Schmoke and Mr. Simms, his erstwhile deputy in the state's attorney's office. Mr. Simms is a conscientious prosecutor, who is every day of his hard-working life handed a dossier of horrors. Mr. Schmoke, pinched by ever-increasing demands on his tax revenues, dearly hopes to stop having to pay for the local institutions of criminal justice: the Circuit Court, the City Jail, the sheriff's office, the state's attorney office.

It would throw Mr. Schmoke's plans into reverse for him to fund all the new prosecutors needed to handle Mr. Simms' burgeoning case load.

The resulting crunch has been heard in other places than just the juvenile division. To mention just one other area, Mr. Simms' child-abuse unit has only two full-time prosecutors, one of whom as head of the unit is up to his ears in special funding efforts and public relations and doesn't have time for a full caseload.

When prosecutors are short of help, cases get postponed or dropped or plea-bargained away for token sentences, and sometimes not even adequately investigated. Child abusers, for instance, don't get the treatment -- or the punishment -- they need, and their victims remain at risk.

The low priority that our mayor gives to crime is one of the enduring puzzlements of the Schmoke administration. Five years state's attorney is the kind of experience that ought to acquaint a body with the facts of life.

The most likely victim of crime is young, underprivileged and black. Yet the most likely victimizer is also young, underprivileged and black; and that conjunction produces one of the most fateful public-policy disagreements of our time.

Mr. Schmoke has long viewed the criminal underclass as an indictment of the larger society. In the vast kaleidoscope of American crime he chooses to focus on its structural causes: undereducation, underemployment, the enormous profits to be made in the drug trade. He prefers long-term solutions; in the long run it may simply be good fiscal management for the city to divest itself of criminal justice institutions it is increasingly unable to pay for.

Mr. Simms is no less interested in the long run. But in his world the miserable facts come to him case by case, victim by victim, and he has to look for justice as best he can. It is not for him to offer the families of victims the hopeless consolation that the mayor has a duty to pay attention to other things.

Apparently as a society we have decided that we can live with the consequences of crime. Most of the victims, after all, are only black, poor and unproductive. But we ought not to live with those consequences. And it is fair to say that Mr. Schmoke ought to know better.

Hence the Schmoking out of Stuart Simms: the unavoidable conflict, mutually distasteful to both its principals, between mayor and state's attorney, both of them thoroughbreds out of the Larry Gibson political stables. Mr. Simms, careful and circumspect, is very reluctant to criticize his friend and former boss.

But he knows that refusing to fund the courts and jails and prosecutors that we need to cope with crime is like refusing to treat the victims of cancer because we don't know the cure.

Mr. Riedl is a counselor in the state Division of Corrections.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.