New juvenile justice head is sworn in Glendening chooses federal prosecutor Gilberto DeJesus

State Senate must approve

First Latino named to Maryland Cabinet in recent memory

November 25, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening reached outside Maryland and into the ranks of federal prosecutors yesterday as he named U.S. Justice Department attorney Gilberto DeJesus to be his new juvenile justice secretary.

DeJesus succeeds Stuart O. Simms, who was recently named secretary of public safety and correctional services to replace the departing Bishop L. Robinson. DeJesus, a 45-year-old native of New York's Spanish Harlem, was sworn in immediately, although his nomination must be confirmed by the state Senate.

DeJesus lives in Arlington, Va., but said he plans to move to Maryland to take the appointment to the $106,664-a-year post.

The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, DeJesus is the first Hispanic-American to be appointed to a Maryland Cabinet post in recent memory. Glendening alluded to that in his remarks yesterday, saying he "wanted to continue to have a team that was very diverse."

Hispanics represent a small but growing voting bloc in Maryland, where the Latino population reached 162,000 in 1994, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates that many consider low.

In choosing DeJesus, Glendening opted for a longtime prosecutor rather than a corrections professional -- as he did when he chose Simms, then the Baltimore state's attorney.

Glendening cited DeJesus' experience as a prosecutor of difficult cases against juveniles and gangs -- many of whom come from backgrounds similar to his.

"He has a kind of gut-level understanding of the nature of the problems that young people face in many of our communities," the governor said.

In his public remarks, DeJesus said little except to thank his family. In an interview after the announcement, he took a hard-line stance toward juvenile crime.

"We have to be aggressive with first-time offenders. We have to make sure that kids understand that what they're doing is wrong," DeJesus said.

He said he believes the state needs to use a combination of approaches, including "boot camps" and privately run facilities.

DeJesus said he told the governor in his interview that "but for the grace of God," he could have ended up in trouble as a youth. "Growing up, I just saw too much waste. I saw too many young men throw their lives away."

The new secretary will lead a department with 1,400 employees and a budget of $116 million. In fiscal 1996, it handled 58,159 cases. The department owns 10 facilities -- three of which are operated by private contractors.

Judi Scioli, Glendening's press secretary, said DeJesus was brought to the administration's attention by Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

Urbina, who was at the State House for yesterday's announcement, said he has known DeJesus for 16 years and has seen him hone his skills as a prosecutor.

"He's developed a wonderful reputation -- not only for being well-prepared but also for having excellent judgment," Urbina said.

Scioli said the governor had not set out to hire a Hispanic-American but had "widened the list" of people to be consulted about possible candidates.

Glendening said that after administration officials went through all the names suggested, DeJesus was the only candidate he interviewed.

DeJesus served from 1989 until February as a prosecutor in the homicide unit of the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia. Since then he has been a trial attorney in the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs.

Before joining the Justice Department, DeJesus was executive director of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, an organization that helps disadvantaged young people attend law school. From 1982 to 1987, he was a lawyer with the Federal Communications Commission.

Earlier this year he ran a spirited but unsuccessful race for president of the District of Columbia Bar Association, taking 31 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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