Delegates reject ban on prosecutors' private practice

March 06, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

A bill that would have prohibited the county's assistant state's attorneys from practicing civil law on their own time was rejected Friday by local lawmakers.

Anne Arundel's state delegates voted 10-1 against the bill, with only its sponsor, Del. John G. Gary, a Millersville Republican, supporting it. Del. Phillip D. Bissett, R-Edgewater, abstained.

County delegates also voted to grant the sheriff a 6 percent pay raise in the 1995 fiscal year beginning in July, with 3 percent increases in the three subsequent years. The pay raise, which would increase the sheriff's salary from $42,000 to $48,700 at the end of four years, is considerably less than the $65,000 requested by Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr.

The bill still needs approval by both houses of the General Assembly. Sheriff Pepersack had no comment on the amended bill.

Although the bill prohibiting assistant state's attorneys from practicing civil law remains before the Judiciary Committee, there is little chance it will survive. As a courtesy, bills affecting a county that do not have the local delegation's support are rarely approved.

Mr. Gary introduced the bill at the request of John R. Greiber Jr., a Republican candidate for state's attorney. Mr. Greiber has criticized State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee for exceeding the statewide average for the length of time between when a criminal complaint is filed and when the defendant is sentenced.

As evidence, Mr. Greiber pointed to an annual report by the administrative office of the courts that showed in the 12-month period ending June 30, it takes a case an average of 144 days in Anne Arundel to be resolved, up from an average of 138 days a year ago.

By comparison, the statewide average dropped from 150 days to 112 days, the report says.

Mr. Gary said before the vote that the major metropolitan counties -- Baltimore, Prince George's and Montgomery -- and Baltimore City all have laws prohibiting the practice.

"I find it amazing . . . that 10 years after the last jurisdiction passed this, that we're still allowing this in Anne Arundel County," Mr. Gary said.

"This is a public safety issue and an ethics issue," he said.

But his colleagues said the state's attorney should be free to manage his own employees without interference from state officials.

"I have a problem micromanaging anybody's business, so to speak," said Del. W. Ray Huff, a Pasadena Democrat. "Basically, [Mr. Weathersbee] can do this now, if he wants to do it."

Del. Michael E. Busch said the charge was made by a political opponent of Mr. Weathersbee and that the issue should be decided by the voters.

"If they want to make this a campaign issue, I think that's the proper arena to make this decision," the Annapolis Democrat said.

Mr. Weathersbee has defended the practice of allowing his assistants to practice privately, arguing that the work occurs on their own time and that he has found no evidence that it harms their work in his office.

Mr. Greiber called the vote a "reprehensible" action that threatened public safety.

"They made a political issue out of it," he said. "They circled their wagons to protect their party's weak incumbent.

"They made the following clear: Criminals deserve full-time, dedicated defense lawyers at the state's expense, but victims don't," he said.

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