School sex probe has a 'persistent' investigator at helm Baron promises a thorough inquiry

August 22, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Alan I. Baron was named on a Tuesday to sort out the Anne Arundel County school system's handling of suspected cases of teachers abusing students. On Wednesday, telephone calls +V started pouring into his Washington law office from people offering to tell all. By Friday, he had a pile of letters to go with the telephone list.

Mr. Baron insists that his investigation will reach them all. His prior public investigations -- one into the the failure of Rhode Island's private

ly insured financial institutions and another that resulted in the impeachments of two federal judges -- were commended for thoroughness.

The Anne Arundel probe may be the lowest-profile investigation undertaken by the 51-year-old lawyer who specializes in white-collar cases.

nTC His private clients have included former FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, whom he successfully defended against charges that he authorized the infamous Weathermen break-ins, and Joe Kolter, the Pennsylvania Democrat who lost his House of Representatives seat last year and is suspected of being "Congressman B" in the House post office scam.

To Mr. Baron, who lives with his wife and two young sons in Baltimore, the probe into a public school system is a public service. Howrey & Simon, the tony law firm he joined as a partner last year, will lose money on the investigation for which he is being paid $106,000, he said.

The Baltimore native is delighted by the calls and letters, which ,, areproviding him with leads.

"People are responding to the invitation to come forward and tell us what they already know," Mr. Baron said.

He doesn't think that the dozens seeking him out are fabricating tales.

"They are responsible citizens," he said, explaining that, from the nature of the information, he can tell these people generally know what they are talking about.

"He follows a meticulous path. He really will follow every lead. He is very fair," said Maryland's U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, who knows Mr. Baron from the judicial impeachment cases.

The school board hired the special counsel Aug. 10 to lead a four-pronged state-mandated probe:

* To see if Superintendent C. Berry Carter, placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome, failed to report suspected child abuse when he was deputy superintendent, as required by law.

* To look closely at related events at Northeast High School.

* To examine policies, procedures and practices for school employee discipline, and suggest changes.

* To report to the county's prosecutors any findings that people may have broken the law.

Since April, three teachers have been charged with child sex abuse involving students at Northeast; two teachers face reassignment following findings that they sexually harassed .

another teacher; and a state probe concluded that neither key Northeast administrators nor Mr. Carter told police or social workers of suspicions that teacher Ronald W. Price was having a sexual tryst with a student in 1989.

That leaves Mr. Baron with the task of sorting out details where few records exist and in a highly charged atmosphere.

"He is known for his ability to deal with this kind of situation," said Mary K. Albrittain, chief of pupil personnel services and drug-free schools in the State Department of Education.

As the state's link with Anne Arundel schools, she expects to meet with Mr. Baron this week, and the county school board expects an interim report from him in early September.

Those who know him describe Mr. Baron as brilliant, persistent, low-key and not political, and they say the county will get its money's worth by the time the probe ends Nov. 30.

"If I am one of the bad guys, I am afraid of Alan Baron. If I am one of the good guys, or one of the victims, I am happy to have him," said Daniel M. Freeman, counsel and parliamentarian of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee of the Judiciary.

The two worked closely during 1991 and 1992, when Mr. Baron served as special counsel in proceedings that resulted in the impeachment and removal from office of federal judges Alcee Hastings and Walter Nixon.

"He is persistent; he will get to the truth," Mr. Freeman said.

Mr. Baron said that he is troubled by the apparent lack of records in Anne Arundel's school system pertaining to his investigation, which may make interviews that much more crucial.

Because of the confidential nature of the probe, he has offered to meet with people in their homes, in coffee shops, in his Washington office.

"I will go wherever they want to meet me," he said.

Colleagues say his interviewing skills and amiable manner serve him well in pulling out the truth.

"He is very adept in bringing out all the facts a witness might not want to disclose," said Jeffrey J. Teitz, the Rhode Island state representative who chaired the select committee examining the financial crisis there. Mr. Baron served as special counsel from 1987 to 1989.

"He's very good at reading people," Mr. Teitz said. "I think they have chosen the perfect person."

Running a public inquiry is more difficult than being a prosecutor or an advocate, Mr. Teitz said, partly because questions of poor judgment and evaluations of the workings of government play such large roles.

"He is a stickler for confidentiality," said U.S. Rep. Michael Synar, the Texas Democrat who worked closely with Mr. Baron on the impeachment cases.

Mr. Baron was selected for the job through a unanimous vote by a school board that has been characterized more by disagreements than by unanimity.

"He was clearly a standout," said school board member Maureen Carr-York. "There were other people we thought could do the job, but he could do it better."

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