A Harford County councilman given probation last year for grabbing a janitor's breast outside council chambers wants his criminal record expunged two years early so he can run for re-election next year without a trace of the conviction.
A lawyer for Councilman Mark S. Decker, a Republican representing the Bel Air area, said he is seeking the expunction so Decker's political opponents can't review the files "and take potshots at him" when he seeks re-election next year.
"The less written ammunition his competitors have, the more likely he will be re-elected," said Decker's lawyer, Augustus Brown.
Decker, a liquor store owner, declined to comment this week, referring questions to his lawyer.
He was convicted of battery a year ago and given probation before judgment for grabbing a breast and the nameplate of a county janitor in a hallway outside the Bel Air council chambers as she emptied trash.
Decker has served his one-year probation in the case. The probation before judgment finding allows him to have his record expunged automatically in April 1999. But he must show "good cause" to have it expunged sooner.
No date has been set for a hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where the trial was held. The prosecutor in the case opposes the request for early expunction, saying such a move would constitute "favorable treatment" for Decker.
"The enhancement of the Defendant's 1998 political campaign is hardly the good cause envisioned by the legislature" when it enacted the law allowing for expunged records, wrote Assistant State's Attorney Stephen R. Roscher. "The citizens' access to the public records of the police, court and State prior to April 17, 1999, is an interest that outweighs the political interests expressed by the defendant," Roscher wrote.
The victim, who is not being named by The Sun because of the nature of the crime, said: "This should not happen. The voters and the public should have the right to access those records. It's simply too soon."
She said, "I would not be comfortable" with an early expunction because it "would appear to minimize the crime."
Decker's request comes four months after a Baltimore County case in which Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. wiped out the battery conviction of Baltimore pawnbroker Charles Weiner, who said he wanted a clean record to join a country club. He was found guilty of beating his estranged wife's head against a tile floor.
Bollinger's decision so upset legislators and women's rights advocates that he reversed himself on a technicality. Another judge later rejected Weiner's request to change his battery conviction to probation before judgment.
At Decker's trial, the janitor testified that she was emptying trash bins in February 1995 when Decker took her by surprise in the hallway, touching a sleeve and then grabbing her breast and the name tag on her smock.
"I felt violated. I couldn't believe that that had happened," the custodian testified. She also told Judge John Grason Turnbull II that she previously had a co-worker accompany her to clean Decker's office because of inappropriate comments he had made to her.
Decker testified that he briefly touched a patch on the woman's smock, but he denied touching her breast. He originally was charged with fourth-degree sexual offense and battery. Turnbull acquitted him on the sex offense and convicted him of battery.
Cheryl DePetro, president of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she opposed expunging Decker's record early.
"Anytime we make exceptions in cases involving sexual violence it sends the wrong message to victims," she said. "It seems to me politicians should be held to the same standards as the rest of the public."
Bonnie Ariano, executive director of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center, said expunging the record early would disregard the seriousness of Decker's crime.
"Sexual crimes have always been treated lightly in the past," she said, noting that victims and advocates are demanding that perpetrators be held accountable.
Mitch Shank, one of Decker's colleagues on the seven-member council, said he doesn't think an expunction would make any difference in Decker's political career because many voters in Harford County know about the battery case.
"They're going to judge what he's done on the council, his commitment to the Harford County community," said Shank, noting Decker's volunteer work with students at Bel Air High School and with senior citizens.
Pub Date: 5/08/97