McLendon plans for a new day

November 27, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

When Marna McLendon is sworn in as Howard County state's attorney in January, she will inherit an office that may require vast changes to carry it into the next century.

But that's not to say the state's attorney's office hasn't come a long way from the days when it had seven prosecutors who worked out of a small, decrepit house across from the Circuit Courthouse in Ellicott City.

Under William Hymes -- who did not seek re-election after 16 years -- the office has been transformed from a small-time outfit into a modern-day operation with prosecutors who handle complex criminal cases.

But some attorneys say the 67-year-old Mr. Hymes has not done enough to advance the state's attorney's office. The office needs an injection of fresh blood and new ideas to overcome complacency that has cloaked its staff in recent years, critics say.

"I think it's been [stagnant]," Ms. McLendon said. "Things have been the same way for a long time. . . . There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a new day."

But Mr. Hymes said spending restraints often limited what programs he could establish, preventing him from having what he calls the "perfect office."

"I am very pleased with what we were able to accomplish over the years," said Mr. Hymes, who is considering jobs with several law firms. "It's not perfect. There are many things that could be changed."


Even Mr. Hymes' critics credit him for modernizing the office.

"In the 16 years, he's had to move the office from a unit that was quite small to a modern-day office," said Ms. McLendon, who lost her bid to unseat Mr. Hymes in 1986.

In 1978, Howard was emerging as an affluent, suburban community, with about half its current population of 212,000. But the state's attorney's office wasn't keeping pace.

"The county was growing up all around us," said Deputy State's Attorney Dwight Thompson, who joined the office as a prosecutor in 1973 and will retire in January. "Everything was moving forward, but the state's attorney's office was a step behind."

The office was in the Weir Building, a structure that was condemned three times before the staff was relocated to the courthouse in 1989.

In the old building, some of the prosecutors had to share telephones and use card tables as desks. The facility didn't have a computer until 1983.

Ms. McLendon, an assistant prosecutor between 1980 and 1984, recalled bringing in paint and contact paper to spruce up the building.

When Mr. Hymes took office, he initiated an agenda of change to advance the office. Fifty-five people -- including 24 prosecutors -- now work at the office. They work full time, instead of part time. They have specific duties, instead of piecemeal assignments.

Mr. Hymes expanded the office's child-support division. He established units aimed at prosecuting juvenile crime, child abuse and drug offenses.

He hired coordinators to assist crime victims.

Another of Mr. Hymes' accomplishments is the complete computerization of the office's records -- all of which had been kept on index cards.


But some lawyers fault Mr. Hymes for allowing the office to stagnate.

"I think he's lost interest in it," said David Thomas, an Ellicott City attorney and former prosecutor.

Mr. Hymes acknowledged that some things could be better, such as a computer system linking the office with other courthouse offices. But he dismissed the idea that his office hasn't progressed, citing the array of cases his staff must handle and the regular turnover of prosecutors.

Some private lawyers agreed with Mr. Hymes, saying many prosecutors are aggressive advocates who doggedly pursue their cases.

"Maybe it seemed Bill did so much at first because there [were] so many things to do," said Howard County public defender Carol Hanson. "Maybe he did reach a plateau of sorts. But I think he did everything you could expect him to do."

Michael Weal, chief of the Howard District Court division of the state's attorney's office, said he's looking forward to the changes that Ms. McLendon will bring.

"I think to a certain extent there has been [stagnation]," he said. "You need to keep up with the times."


Mr. Weal, who lost the Democratic primary for state's attorney, said he hopes Ms. McLendon will improve communications and the imbalances between the office's District Court and Circuit Court divisions.

Mr. Weal said it's been months since Mr. Hymes last visited the District Court division, located less than a mile from the state's attorney's office.

He added that District Court prosecutors don't have secretaries, while there is a secretary for every three Circuit Court prosecutors.

Ms. Hanson, who shared an office with Ms. McLendon when they were assistant prosecutors, said she hopes that Ms. McLendon will review the system recently established by the state's attorney's office and court officials that divides prosecutors into three teams and schedules their cases in two-week periods.

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