Sheriff's campaign becomes personal Incumbent reveals opponent's work files in Balto. County race

October 02, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

In the Byzantine world of courthouse politics, nothing matches the race for Baltimore County sheriff this year.

The Democratic candidate -- Anne K. Strasdauskas -- is a former deputy sheriff fired last year for failing to turn in her radio on time. Recently reinstated by court order, she resigned last week to spend the next month trying to unseat Republican Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr., who fired her.

As her former boss, Pepersack has access to his opponent's personnel files and has launched his first campaign assault by publicly unveiling 11 disciplinary accusations against Strasdauskas -- which she had not seen.

It's the kind of campaign ammunition other politicians can only fantasize about. But Pepersack says his use of personnel files is legal and justified by Strasdauskas' political claims that the sheriff has lost touch with his 67 deputies.

"She apparently had a problem with authority and following rules and regulations," said Pepersack, a former Marine and state trooper with nearly 40 years' experience in law enforcement who recently showed a reporter a large box marked "Anne S." filled with large envelopes.

While the disciplinary accusations are moot because Strasdauskas resigned from her job, she is worried that Pepersack's release of them not only damages her campaign but also smears her employment record. That was cleared when a circuit judge ordered her firing reversed, with 10 months of back pay.

Sheriff's accusations

Pepersack's accusations range from the most serious -- using law-enforcement computer systems to obtain motor vehicle records for personal use -- to parking in a handicapped space, being too loud and using the telephone too often in a judge's office.

Pepersack said Strasdauskas was not notified of the accusations because his department was investigating them when she was fired in December.

Strasdauskas and her lawyer say Pepersack has violated his regulations about confidentiality of employment records.

"I can't understand why this man is doing this to me," said Strasdauskas, 44, whose lawyer also argues that the release of such information is illegal.

Strasdauskas is waging an uphill campaign against the eight-year incumbent for the $70,000-a-year job overseeing 67 deputies who make 1,600 arrests a year and guard the courthouse.

The former deputy sheriff of 10 years, who previously was a jail guard, gas station manager and competitive speed skater, has received citations praising her work.

Previous clashes

She has clashed with Pepersack, questioning his leadership three years ago in a sex-discrimination complaint after she was transferred to 16 assignments in six years. Though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that she could sue the sheriff's office, she chose not to.

Strasdauskas says Pepersack runs an office mired in bureaucratic minutiae and spends frivolously on items such as leather jackets and belt buckles for deputies.

"The man has done some good things. He got us lights and sirens and cars, but it's time for fresh ideas. It's time to have someone to listen," said Strasdauskas.

'I lay down the rules'

Pepersack, 64, brushes off Strasdauskas' criticism. He says his budget is in the black, he runs a tight bureaucracy to prevent loss of equipment and takes advice from his top echelon.

"As in any quasi-military organization, I'm the boss and I lay down the rules," he said.

Pepersack rejects the suggestion that he did anything wrong by releasing his opponent's disciplinary records, saying, "In my rules and regulations, I have the sole authority to release information under certain conditions.

"I think this is a reasonable thing to do," he said.

'Open to the public'

Pepersack has the backing of his agency's lawyer -- the assistant attorney general assigned to the Sheriff's Department.

"The sheriff's disciplinary system is open to the public. We don't consider them to be confidential," said Assistant Attorney General Michael A. Fry.

But Strasdauskas' lawyer, Mary Kramer, disagrees. She points to the Sheriff's Department's rules that say "all internal affairs matters are confidential."

Said Kramer, a lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police who represented Strasdauskas in her discharge case: "I'm outraged this kind of confidential information would be shared. I thought Sheriff Pepersack had more integrity than that. Make it a fair fight."

Strasdauskas said she was unaware of the accusations,

although she was questioned more than a year ago about using the computer system for personal use. She said she was practicing on the system by checking the motor vehicle tags of friends. She said she assumed the case was dropped when no charge was brought against her.

Opposing campaigns

Pepersack has $18,000 in his campaign kitty. Strasdauskas has $3,000 -- mostly her money. She has the backing of several Democrats, including County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

The sheriff says he is putting advertisements in community newspapers, buying 1,000 signs and handing out leaflets outlining his accomplishments in office.

Strasdauskas said she has been waging a more personal campaign. Because of limited funds, she made her campaign signs. She says she knocked on 20,000 doors before the September primary and is planning a fund-raiser Nov. 1.

As for her opponent's campaign tactics, she said: "I think he's a desperate man, and he'll go to any lengths to make sure I don't have a shot at being sheriff."

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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