Simms' likely appointment surprises co-workers

January 07, 1995|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich and Marina Sarris contributed to this report.

Ask Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms about his career plans, and you probably won't get a direct answer. You're more likely to hear one of his stock lines, something like, "I'm just an old country lawyer trying to do my job."

This close-to-the-vest style may explain why city prosecutors and judges were taken by surprise yesterday by reports that this 44-year-old, Baltimore-bred, Ivy League-educated "old country lawyer" is being tapped for a Cabinet post in the Glendening administration.

"He's not a secretive man. He's just one who keeps his own counsel," prosecutor Timothy J. Doory said yesterday. A day earlier, Mr. Doory, who heads the office's violent crime unit, was among those waving off rumors that Mr. Simms was to become Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening's secretary of juvenile justice.

Neither Mr. Simms nor a Glendening spokesman would comment on the reports yesterday. But Mr. Simms reportedly gathered his top prosecutors to tell them that he will be offered the job.

Mr. Simms' move raises questions -- such as who will replace him and why he would leave the job he has held since 1987. But few could claim knowledge of where his ambitions lie.

In recent years, rumors have had him heading the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration or landing a federal judgeship. Some saw him as potential candidate for mayor or City Council president. He even was rumored last summer as a candidate to be Mr. Glendening's running mate.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Mr. Simms' predecessor as state's attorney and a political ally, said, "His aspirations were not along the lines of elective office. It intrigued us several years ago when it was rumored that he was going to run for the City Council presidency. "

Mr. Simms, the mayor said, would leave the state's attorney's office only for a job that would "intrigue him" and give him a chance to help shape policy.

While some wonder whether the move from elected official to agency head amounts to a promotion, others note that a meaningful challenge may lie in reshaping the state's approach toward juvenile justice.

As Mr. Doory said, "It's an area he'd always had an interest in. It's an area . . . he has always said needs direction."

The son of a high school teacher and a Bethlehem Steel employee, Stu Simms was one of the first blacks to graduate from the Gilman School, where he was captain of the football team. He went on to play football while majoring in government at Dartmouth College. Like Mr. Schmoke, he graduated from Harvard Law School.

He worked for the Baltimore firm Semmes, Bowen & Semmes before taking a job as staff counsel to U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. He then worked as a federal prosecutor, a job that brought him into contact with Mr. Schmoke. When Mr. Schmoke was elected city state's attorney in 1982, he brought in Mr. Simms as deputy. And when Mr. Schmoke became mayor in 1987, Baltimore's Circuit Court judges appointed Mr. Simms state's attorney. Mr. Simms, who lives in Ashburton, ran unopposed for the office in 1990 and 1994.

After Bill Clinton was elected president, word spread that Mr. Simms was being considered for a top job in the U.S. Department of Justice.

But in early 1993 a special Baltimore grand jury's report expressed doubts about the willingness of his office to pursue politically connected suspects in drug cases. Although an investigation by Maryland's special prosecutor cleared him of any wrongdoing, the allegations apparently cost him the federal job.

Mr. Simms remains bitter about the grand jury report, but has never discussed the lost job publicly.

His employees say he has does not open up unless it is in his interest. His is a quiet, methodical style.

As Mr. Doory said, "Everybody would hate to lose Stu as a boss. . . . He's a talented prosecutor and a real leader."

Mr. Simms would take on the job of leading a reshaped state agency. In changing its name from Juvenile Services to Juvenile Justice last month, Mr. Glendening said the gesture would "make it clear that our purpose is not to serve juvenile offenders, but to deter, punish and then rehabilitate."

Mary Ann Saar, the outgoing secretary of the department, said, "It's a tough job, but by no stretch of the imagination is it thankless. "

Some said yesterday that the position could gain prominence because crime has become a paramount political issue.

Edward J. Angeletti, a judge on Baltimore's Circuit Court, said, "It's critical that we do something for the youngsters to divert them from the system. Every aspect of a child's life has to examined, and maybe Stu can make a difference."

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