Old Rivalry Is Rekindled With State's Attorney's Race

October 28, 1990|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

Twenty years ago, Richard J. Kinlein -- who would turn out to be one of Howard County's most controversial state's attorneys -- appointed 43-year-old William R. Hymes as a prosecutor. The two have been at odds ever since.

Now, Kinlein is facing an uphill battle to get his old job back, but Hymes is showing no signs of relinquishing the office he has held for the past three terms.

Hymes, a staunch conservative Democrat who has been county state's attorney since 1978, is firmly entrenched in an office that he would be bitterly reluctant to surrender to Kinlein, well-known in county legal circles as a maverick Republican.

"It would bother me if that man (Kinlein) were elected to office," said Hymes, who says he and Kinlein seldom saw eye-to-eye when they worked together in the 1970s. "All one need do is look at our backgrounds to make the best choice."

Kinlein, the county state's attorney from 1966 to 1975, is an outspoken Ellicott City lawyer known for a confrontational style that has gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion.

"If you're going to be a shaker and a mover, you have to move into the forefront of the controversy," Kinlein, 54, said of his past. "I've always spoken my piece and sometimes it offends people. But I have nothing to apologize for."

In 1966, at the age of 30, Kinlein became the youngest state's attorney in Howard County history. His tenure was marked by frequent brushes with opponents and the press. In 1971, his fifth year in office, he was convicted of contempt of court for "inflammatory statements" he made to the press during the famous H. Rap Brown arson case.

Also among his past controversies is a 1978 incident in which Kinlein shot and superficially wounded an 18-year-old friend of his stepdaughter, although a grand jury later ruled that Kinlein, who fired three shots from a .38-caliber pistol, acted in self-defense.

Hymes, now 63, points to Kinlein's troubled past as a stark contrast to tenure, in which the office has doubled in size while Hymes has attempted to maintain the lowest profile possible.

"I've been accused of being stand-offish and not shouting and raising flags," Hymes said. "That's probably true. I didn't take this job to impose the will of Bill Hymes. I took it to uphold the law of Maryland."

Hymes, an Ellicott City resident who has been a lawyer since 1959, said he believes one of his most successful contributions as state's attorney has been his aggressive collection of child-support money.

The state's attorney's office collected $2.6 million in child support in fiscal 1990, an 18 percent increase over 1989 and an 86 percent increase from 1986, according to county records.

"To me, I'm proud of that," Hymes said. "It's not like a public execution at high noon. But child support is something that affects all of us. If we don't collect it, you have to pay more for your taxes."

The county state's attorney, who is paid at an annual salary of $82,200 a year, oversees 22 prosecutors.

Kinlein, a Mount Airy resident, criticizes Hymes for not taking a stronger leadership role in the office "and losing the power of action in his attempts to try and please everyone."

Hymes reports that his office has returned convictions on between 87 percent and 94 percent of all trial cases in his most recent four-year term.

Kinlein favors allowing prosecutors to open their own law practices, an idea that Hymes opposes out of concern that attorneys would spend too much time trying to build their private practices.

The two also disagree on the death penalty. Hymes supports the state's view that the penalty should be sought whenever possible. Kinlein opposes what he calls "an unfair and outrageously expensive form of revenge."

Kinlein also opposes mandatory sentencing, saying that judges should be given the responsibility and the trust to make their own decisions. Hymes favors mandatory sentencing, especially in the cases of drug dealers, who he says should always face strict criminal penalties.

As the election draws closer, Kinlein has openly criticized county police in recent weeks and has accused officers of being "television trained" for violence and gun-pointing.

"I think it's a problem that I would try and do something about," Kinlein said. "I think these officers are doing a lot of questionable things under the guise that it's all part of the 'War on Drugs.' " At a March 27 Circuit Court sentencing, in which Kinlein represented convicted PCP dealer Joseph H. Burris Jr., Kinlein claimed that his client had "disclosed clear evidence of police drug use and police corruption" to him. The comments led to harsh words and further division with county police.

Howard County Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney, who Kinlein says he would seek to replace if elected, slammed Kinlein in a July 17 memo to the state Attorney Grievance Commission. Chaney asked the commission to take disciplinary action, saying the attorney's courtroom comments were "unwarranted, unprofessional and unethical."

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