Candidates differ on sheriff functions CAMPAIGN 1994

November 05, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

A difference of opinion over the role of the sheriff in Baltimore County separates the candidates for the job, as voters decide Tuesday whether to give Republican Norman M. Pepersack Jr. a second term or to replace him with Democrat Charles W. "Chuck" Norris Jr.

Sheriff Pepersack said he will focus on the duties of the job -- transporting prisoners, providing courthouse security and serving legal papers -- but he believes his deputies could play a larger role.

"We're all concerned about crime: It's the No. 1 issue," he said. "Here I've got 56 uniformed deputy sheriffs [and putting them in] a car with markings and lights is a deterrent, whether it's on the Beltway or in your local neighborhood. . . . I'm not going out to ferret out criminals."

Mr. Norris said, "I think the sheriff's department needs to focus on its primary function, which is service to the courts, and not be reaching out to police-like functions . . . when the police are equipped to do a good job."

Both incumbent and challenger come from law enforcement backgrounds.

Sheriff Pepersack, 60, served 23 years in the state police, retiring as the commander of the firearms service section, and has degrees in criminal justice and sociology. His brother, also formerly in the state police, is Anne Arundel County sheriff.

Mr. Norris, 48, retired from the county police force as captain of the Parkville precinct in 1992. He began his 23-year career on foot patrol in Towson, then became a hostage negotiator, leader of the executive protection team, and head of the legal and personnel divisions. He is chief of security at Eastpoint Mall.

Other than his feelings about the direction of the office, he said he had "no particular criticism" of Sheriff Pepersack but believes he could do a better job of management.

"I feel really good about the support I'm getting," said Mr. Norris.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has become sensitive to continuing attacks from critics about his style.

"I'm the constitutionally elected law enforcement official, whether they like to hear it or not," he said.

Other courthouse races include a contest for clerk of the Circuit Court between Democratic incumbent Suzanne Mensh and Republican Joyce Grimm; the selection of three Orphans' Court judges, and the register of wills.

State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor and two Circuit Court judges are unopposed.

The competitors in the clerk's race work in the same office, but Ms. Mensh is not Ms. Grimm's boss. Ms. Mensh is an elected state official, and Ms. Grimm is a county employee. As director of assignments, Ms. Grimm assigns trials to available judges each morning.

Ms. Mensh said her opponent reportedly has been soliciting contributions from lawyers who may fear they will draw a less desirable judge to hear their cases. The position should be a part of the clerk's office, Ms. Mensh said.

"I've never solicited any attorneys," Ms. Grimm responded. "They have come to me and said they would give me their support."

She said she decided to run because of low morale in the clerk's office and complaints from judges about incomplete files.

"I'm not doing combat with Suzanne," she said.

A check with several judges, court officials, the bar association and lawyers found no one who would support either candidate's charges.

Although the clerk's office had been in disarray in past years, those contacted said the problems have abated. They and Ms. (( Mensh attributed the old backlogs to upheaval as the office adopted new color-coded and bar-coded files, merged law and equity cases into one civil docket and underwent a hiring freeze and the installation of new shelves.

"We handle 26,500 cases a year, civil and criminal; we did the best that we could," said Ms. Mensh, who recalled dealing with file cabinets too stuffed to open and boxes piled everywhere. An Orphans' Court judge for 24 years, she resigned that position in 1986 before running for her first term as clerk.

"I agree there was a time we had mounds of pleadings that were not getting in as fast," she said. "Now, we see to it that the courtroom clerks check the file room to make sure no new pleadings have come in."

But Ms. Grimm said she still gets complaints. "I get blamed for whatever the clerks aren't doing," she said. "I'm the whipping boy. I know that I can make it work."

In the race for the judges of Orphans' Court, who deal with wills and estates and are not required to have a law degree, six candidates, including two incumbents, are running for three seats. Chief Judge Grace G. Connolly, a Democrat, and Judge Sandra L. O'Connell-Hughes, a Republican, are seeking re-election.

The other Republicans are Victoria C. Chambers and Edward Fowler. The Democrats are Julie L. Ensor and Catharine A. Davis.

For register of wills, the administrator of the Orphans' Court, longtime incumbent Peter J. Basilone, a Democrat, is running against Republican Patrick L. McDonough.

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