Candidate McCrone comes out swinging Wants to restore 'sense of competence' to prosecutor's office

October 19, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

In the courtroom -- the battlefield for most attorneys -- Ellicott City attorney Tim McCrone is often called "the bulldog," a nicknamed he earned for his reputation as a fighter.

It is this tough-guy attitude that motivated him to become an attorney more than a decade ago and has launched him into one of the biggest political battles in Howard County -- the state's attorney race.

The 45-year-old Democrat is a political novice running against Republican incumbent Marna L. McLendon for the $84,000-a-year position. Using his campaign slogan "Time for Tim," McCrone is launching a sharp attack on what he sees as lackluster prosecution and politically motivated decision-making. McLendon won on a law-and-order campaign during the Republican sweep of the county in 1994 and has maintained a highly visible role with programs geared toward stopping alcohol and drug abuse by teen-agers.

"I want to restore the office of the state's attorney to a sense of competence," said McCrone, a former Howard prosecutor with ties to law enforcement. "We can do that by stemming the number of experienced prosecutors who have left and winning cases instead of taking insignificant cases to trial."

McCrone entered the race in March shortly after McLendon passed off to the state prosecutor an investigation of former White House aide Linda R. Tripp's alleged wiretapping of intern Monica Lewinsky. McLendon said she was avoiding the politics of the investigation of Tripp, and McCrone said he plans to make it the centerpiece of his campaign in the final weeks leading to the Nov. 3 election. He calls McLendon's decision "a national embarrassment" for the county.

"[McLendon] failed to live up to her responsibilities as state's attorney in making a decision in the Tripp case," McCrone said. "She didn't get rid of the political pressure -- she just shifted it to someone else. She showed no guts, no glory in the handling of [the Tripp case]."

Carole Fisher, chairwoman of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee, added: "Marna ran on the saying that she was a criminal's worst nightmare [in the 1994 election], and then she walks away from something like [Tripp]."

In his four cable television ads, McCrone asserts that high turnover of prosecutors is leading to what he calls an "embarrassingly low" jury trial conviction rate.

Since McLendon took office in January 1995, 13 of 23 prosecutors have left the office -- including six she fired. McLendon has said she is not concerned with the turnover rate because lawyers often use the job as a career step.

'Criminals are laughing'

"I got into this race because I had local defense attorneys saying to me that it was like taking candy from a baby down there because they were winning all their cases," McCrone said. "Criminals are laughing at Howard County on their way out the door."

McCrone said he wants to bring the office back to the job of prosecuting and away from politics. In an interview in his office, McCrone, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, pointed out his endorsement by the Howard County police, firefighters and teachers unions. He is the attorney for the police union, and he defended two jail officers in prosecutions last year by McLendon's office. McCrone has called the charges against the two jail guards -- all of which were dropped -- publicity stunts by McLendon, whom some Democrats and political analysts have called a "political animal" at times.

"Tim's an individual who is respected by everyone," said Jim Kraft, president of the Columbia Democratic Club. "Marna is a delightful person, but she's been a disaster as state's attorney. She's used terrible judgment and lost half of her attorneys in four years. That says something about the way the office is being run."

Some of McLendon's critics have said she needs to spend more time in the courtroom and less time promoting such programs as "Not My Kid," designed to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system. During her four years in office, she has tried one case herself: that of an accountant who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the chloroform death of his girlfriend.

McCrone has said that, if elected, he would prosecute cases himself, re-establish a narcotics unit to prosecute large drug cases and work to reduce crime in Columbia's Harper's Choice village, where two unrelated shootings occurred last month.

"Tim has enough force of a personality that he doesn't have to issue detailed instructions," said Thomas Lloyd, a retired longtime Howard County attorney. "He sets a good example to everybody, and they take their cue from him.

"You can't be lawyering without being in the courtroom," Lloyd said. "[McCrone] realizes it's more than just an administrative job and that you need to be in the courtroom."

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