Prosecutor's record comes under fire Challenger McCrone airs TV commercials criticizing McLendon

'Something is wrong'

Office turnover, rate of convictions become issues in campaign

October 09, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The Democratic candidate for Howard County state's attorney is launching his first campaign TV ads today, attacking incumbent Marna McLendon for her conviction record, high turnover of prosecutors and her travel.

In the four ads, which cost about $4,000 to produce, Tim McCrone claims "something is wrong" in the office run by McLendon, a Republican.

McLendon says his ads distort the facts.

McCrone says the resignations of "over 20 experienced prosecutors" under McLendon's leadership have resulted in fewer convictions and "more criminals on the street to prey on you and your family."

Because McLendon is often away from the office "promoting her political agenda," McCrone asserts in one ad, the conviction rate in jury trials has dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent during her tenure.

"Isn't it time to put a full-time state's attorney in the chair?" McCrone asks in the ad.

In one ad, McCrone, who is the police union's attorney, is shown shaking hands with Howard County police officers, firefighters and teachers, whose unions endorsed him.

McLendon dismissed the endorsements, saying they "have nothing to do with demonstrated quality of prosecution." She called statistics used in McCrone's ads "misleading" and "wrong."

In the past four years, McLendon said her office has had "a 96 percent conviction rate of cases [that go to trial] at Circuit Court."

"My opposition is being intellectually dishonest and mischaracterizing exceptional work by our prosecutors by focusing on a tiny fraction of the overall cases we handled," she said.

McLendon said the turnover of prosecutors in her office is "normal and healthy." She says there is an average of 10 years of experience among the attorneys in the office.

She says 13 prosecutors have resigned during her term, which began in 1995; her total prosecutorial staff is 23.

As examples of McLendon promoting herself, McCrone points to her travel to cities such as San Diego, Atlanta and Austin, Texas, to speak at or participate in conferences where the county paid a portion of her expenses. But McLendon says that as state's attorney she should not be "just behind a desk."

"The state's attorney who doesn't get out from behind her desk is not being responsive to the community and does a disservice to citizens," McLendon said.

McLendon has established programs to prevent juvenile crime and dispatched prosecutors to meet with community leaders. She touts these programs in ads she began to run last week. The ads focus on what she calls a record of being tough in dealing with criminals.

McCrone's ads make no mention of an issue he raised earlier in the campaign, about how McLendon passed the investigation of Linda R. Tripp's alleged wiretapping of former White House vTC intern Monica Lewinsky to Maryland's state prosecutor. Some political analysts suggest that is a mistake. It is the one issue, they say, that would resonate with voters and give McCrone, a political novice, much-needed name recognition.

"Talking about Linda Tripp would make some sense to people," said Robert Ardinger, an adjunct political science professor at Howard Community College. "To say that McLendon put politics before Tripp would be effective."

McLendon handed off the investigation in February to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, saying that she did not want the case to get trapped in politics. McCrone has called her actions in the case "a national embarrassment."

"She didn't get rid of the political pressure, she just shifted it to someone else," McCrone said.

McCrone's first batch of campaign ads focuses too heavily, some analysts say, on criticizing McLendon's record.

"You can't go negative in campaign ads until you've established yourself," said Roger Caplan, a media consultant. "He should have put a spot out 30 days ago establishing his name and telling people about him."

"To come out and attack [McLendon] is not going to move people to his camp," said Caplan. "[McLendon] doesn't have that many negatives. To say [McCrone] is endorsed by the police and fire union isn't much in a town that is not a blue-collar, lunch-pail kind of place."

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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