Second term for McLendon Sun endorsements: Citizen outreach by state's attorney outweighs flap over Tripp tapes.

October 09, 1998

AS IN THE national political arena, the story originally frozen by Linda R. Tripp's tape recorder threatens to overwhelm all other considerations in the election for Howard County state's attorney.

The decision of State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon to turn over responsibility for the illegal wiretapping case to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is, indeed, relevant to how Howard countians decide to vote. But it should not be considered as the sole factor, or even the most crucial one.

Mrs. McLendon, a Republican completing her first term, has radically changed the operation. Her lawyers are asked to volunteer time to participate in community anti-crime programs.

Democrat Timothy J. McCrone, a former assistant state's attorney, believes prosecutors ought to simply be prosecuting. This election should be a referendum on who voters agree with.

Mrs. McLendon's lawyers are working with domestic violence victims. They are in the schools talking to children about drugs. They attend forums to discuss how the public can help fight crime.

Those commendable efforts should continue. They help residents of a growing suburb deal with new crime concerns.

However, Mrs. McLendon's own admission that her conviction rate is down means adjustments are needed. Reducing the time that her staff spends volunteering might help them better prepare for difficult cases. After all, the police and other agencies also provide community outreach.

Making workloads more manageable could reduce complaints about morale that have dogged Mrs. McLendon. Only six of the lawyers who worked in the office when she arrived in 1995 remain.

The exodus in part reflects dissatisfaction with changes she has made. But her staff's newness should not matter if the lawyers can competently handle cases.

As for the Tripp matter, it was a potato too hot for Mrs. McLendon, with Democrats and Republicans trying to influence her.

But in retrospect, hers was probably the prudent decision. The special prosecutor may be better suited for such a case. Also, evidence held by Special Prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr has not been made available to Maryland.

This election should not be another area of public business fogged by the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.

Mrs. McLendon's strong background in criminal law well serves Howard. She deserves a second term to refine her attempts to reform the way the county prosecutor does business.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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