A bill that would end the independence of the state prosecutor's office has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly by a political ally of Gary Huddles -- a former Baltimore County councilman who was a target of the prosecutor's office last year.
The measure, sponsored by Del. Richard Rynd, D-Baltimore County, a longtime friend of Mr. Huddles, would give the state attorney general the power to appoint or fire a state prosecutor and the power to approve or block investigations.
The case against Mr. Huddles came about after a 1990 campaign finance report revealed that he had taken more than $50,000 from his leftover campaign funds and used it to cover stock market losses. Mr. Huddles later paid back the money. And last November he was found not guilty of theft.
Mr. Rynd said he did not discuss the bill with Mr. Huddles or his attorney before submitting it to his colleagues, and he said the bill has no connection to the prosecution of the former county councilman.
"When he [Huddles] was found innocent, I was very pleased," Mr. Rynd said. Nonetheless, he said, his bill is merely a money-saving device.
According to Mr. Rynd, the average per-case cost of an investigation by the attorney general's office is $1,136, while the average cost of a case brought by the state prosecutor's office is $4,500.
His measure could save the state up to $500,000, he said -- even though the total budget for the office is $700,000.
Daryl Plevy, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's appointments secretary, said the governor is considering a proposal to use any savings from Mr. Rynd's bill to hire more judges and security officers for city juvenile courts.
But Ralph S. Tyler, deputy attorney general, said that since no one has suggested dropping the state prosecutor's function, any cost savings would be "minimal."
And State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said Mr. Rynd's statements are misleading. "I don't believe that the statistics are indicative of what we do," Mr. Montanarelli said.
He said he believes that many of the cases his office has investigated would never have been pursued if the office didn't exist. "There's no substitute for an independent prosecutor in a politically sensitive case," Mr. Montanarelli said.
Robert Schulman, Mr. Huddles' attorney in the theft case, claimed repeatedly after Mr. Huddles' indictment that the prosecution was "vindictive, biased and ill-conceived" and that the case was the result of a personal vendetta against Mr. Huddles. Mr. Schulman plans to testify in favor of House Bill 834 at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 26.
The office was created in the mid-1970s, in the wake of a series of Maryland political corruption scandals, as an independent investigative agency to find and root out wrongdoing by elected state officials.
Statistics show that since Mr. Montanarelli was appointed in 1984, his office has prosecuted 37 public officials and six private contractors charged with bribery.
A total of 145 defendants have been charged in 157 cases, not counting complaints of late election finance report filings.
Of those charged, 108 were convicted, Mr. Montanarelli said -- a 69 percent conviction rate.
The 11-person prosecutor's office now handles between 125 and 150 cases a year.
Many are sensitive investigations, Mr. Montanarelli said, and they often don't result in charges being made. But, he said, the deterrent effect is incalculable.
Mr. Rynd claims the bill "does not do away with his [Mr. Montanarelli's] office."
But Mr. Montanarelli said that the Rynd bill would have the same effect as eliminating the office altogether.