Hopefuls focus on know-how CAMPAIGN 1994

October 24, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

The candidates for state's attorney agree that Howard County's top law-enforcement official needs to be experienced and independent. They just disagree on which one of them has those qualities.

Democrat Dario Broccolino says his 17 years as a Baltimore prosecutor -- plus his duties as coordinator of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association -- make him the best candidate in the Nov. 8 general election.

Republican Marna McLendon says her past jobs as a police officer, prosecutor and assistant county solicitor put her in line for state's attorney, a post that pays $84,800 a year.

The incumbent state's attorney, William Hymes, is not seeking re-election after 16 years in office, opening the way for the issue of experience to become a key factor in the race.

While highlighting their own experience at public forums and in campaign brochures, Mr. Broccolino and Ms. McLendon criticize each other's experience.

"[Mr. Broccolino] has not practiced professionally in Howard County," said Ms. McLendon, 43, of Ellicott City. "He has not been involved in criminal justice in Howard County."

In turn, Mr. Broccolino notes that Ms. McLendon has not prosecuted a case in 10 years, making her unfamiliar with current laws and courtroom procedures.

"She's been out of the loop," the 50-year-old Ellicott City resident said.

Mr. Broccolino said his lack of involvement in the county's criminal-justice system will allow him to be independent, since he has no close ties to police, judges or politicians.

He says the county needs a state's attorney who will not be reluctant to speak out against judges or police when necessary. He also pledges to not seek another elected office as long as he's state's attorney.

"The public needs to know that there's a truly independent prosecutor at the helm," he said. "It's important because the public confidence in the criminal-justice system is at an all-time low."

Mr. Broccolino questions Ms. McLendon's close ties to the Police Department and other politicians.

He notes she has mailed brochures to voters and held press conferences in league with other candidates, including Del. Robert L. Flanagan and County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Ms. McLendon describes herself as a team player who would not hesitate to make tough calls. She notes that as a county solicitor she had to take action against some police officers, even though she spent four years as an officer.

"I'm able to work well and bring people together," she said. "That's what a state's attorney should do."

Ms. McLendon suggests that Mr. Broccolino's independence means he's so isolated that he'll be ineffective if elected and will be unable to work with others in the courts.

While both candidates pledge to be tough on criminals, improve services to victims, give greater attention to cases involving juvenile defendants, limit plea bargains and increase public participation in the criminal-justice system, they disagree on how to reach these goals.

For example, Ms. McLendon wants to establish a program called community prosecution, in which prosecutors would be assigned specific areas in the county to act as liaisons between residents and her administration.

In the program, prosecutors would meet with citizens to determine their neighborhood crime problems. The state's attorney's office then would make sure cases involving those crimes are fully prosecuted.

Mr. Broccolino says he's concerned that such a program would lead to an imbalance in the county, with crimes in certain areas getting more attention than in other areas.

Mr. Broccolino says he prefers establishing an advisory board that would include citizens and officials from the county's

criminal-justice system to monitor the state's attorney's office.

The board members would meet monthly to enable citizens to voice their concerns, and it then would find ways to address the issues raised at the meetings.

Ms. McLendon says the board would just be another layer of bureaucracy and would create a barrier between citizens and the state's attorney's office.

On plea bargains, both candidates acknowledge such agreements are a necessary evil in today's criminal-justice system. Both say they'd only permit criminals to plead guilty to the most serious charges.

Any weapon violations wouldn't be dropped as part of a plea bargain, they say. In addition, they would limit plea bargains for repeat offenders.

Mr. Broccolino says he wants to reduce plea bargains by requiring more cases to go to trial. He estimates that only 10 percent of all criminal cases go to trial, with the rest being dismissed or ending in plea agreements.

The candidate says his goal is to double the number of cases going to trial during his first year in office.

Ms. McLendon questions whether such a goal is realistic, saying more cases will go to trial by taking a tough stand on plea bargains. Ms. McLendon adds that she plans to establish guidelines to instruct prosecutors how they should handle different crimes, including those that may involve plea bargains.

Mr. Broccolino says he doesn't see anything wrong with having guidelines, as long as prosecutors have discretion on how to proceed with their cases.

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