Sheriff agrees to halt release of opponent's file Ex-Baltimore Co. deputy sued

other deputies not protected in court order

October 10, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's nastiest electoral campaign this year landed in court yesterday, as Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. agreed -- for now -- to stop releasing personnel files of Democrat Anne K. Strasdauskas, a former deputy sheriff running against him.

Pepersack's promise was incorporated in an emergency order from Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. that also requires the sheriff not to retaliate against Strasdauskas for filing suit against him this week.

But the sheriff did not agree -- and the judge did not order -- the same protection for other deputy sheriffs, and Strasdauskas later warned that they could be subject to retaliation by the sheriff.

The lawsuit, seeking a permanent ban on the public release of personnel and internal investigative files of any deputy sheriff, was filed by lawyers for Strasdauskas and the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the county's more than 60 deputies.

It was prompted by Pepersack's disclosure during a campaign interview with The Sun last month that he had 11 disciplinary charges pending against Strasdauskas that she had never seen.

Pepersack's release of Strasdauskas' disciplinary records is under review by the state prosecutor, who also is looking into the sheriff's involvement in a low-budget murder mystery film called "Handyman."

Before yesterday's hearing, Pepersack came to court with Assistant Attorney General Steven M. Sullivan and agreed not to release any more files involving his opponent and not to retaliate against her for filing suit.

Strasdauskas said she was disappointed that yesterday's temporary order stopped short of shielding all of the deputy sheriffs, especially activists in the Fraternal Order of Police.

She said she is worried that Pepersack might retaliate by "moving people around, changing their schedules, starting internal investigations that have no merit and making their lives miserable."

The sheriff had no comment after yesterday's hearing.

Pepersack, a Republican who has held the office for eight years, fired Strasdauskas a year ago for failing to turn in her radio on time, but she was reinstated by court order a month ago. She resigned to run her campaign.

Last month, Pepersack and Michael A. Fry, an assistant attorney general representing him, said the law allows public disclosure of disciplinary charges. Strasdauskas and her lawyer, Mary Kramer, said such personnel matters in the sheriff's department are legally confidential.

John A. Austin, a lawyer representing the FOP, argued that such personnel matters are protected from public release by state law, a Maryland Court of Appeals decision and by the sheriff's own regulations.

The judge said that the sheriff's rules and regulations are "contradictory" on confidentiality.

Smith said he was signing a temporary emergency order and that he would hear complete arguments about the confidentiality of personnel records and the request for a permanent ban on their release at a court hearing for which no date has been set.

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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