New county sheriff finds sense of justice Strasdauskas succeeds official who fired her

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

A year ago, Anne K. Strasdauskas was worried she would never work in law enforcement again, after being fired as a Baltimore County sheriff's deputy. Yesterday -- with an air of celebration -- she addressed her first roll call as the new county sheriff.

The irony was lost on no one in the basement room of the sheriff's office, where Strasdauskas stood yesterday morning wearing the badge once worn by former Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr., the man who fired her.

The deputies applauded their former colleague, many with enthusiasm. A few had secretly campaigned for her before last month's election, despite fears that Pepersack might find out and retaliate.

"The cloud of doom is gone," said one officer who asked not to be named, referring to what many deputies had described as Pepersack's heavy-handed way of managing his staff of more than 60 deputies and officers.

A year ago this week, Strasdauskas, a 10-year veteran, was fired for failing to turn in her radio on time. In September, she was reinstated by court order -- and with back pay.

Instead of returning to work, she resigned to concentrate on a door-to-door campaign with handmade signs to unseat her former boss. After spending $6,800 on her campaign -- compared with Pepersack's $18,000 -- she won by 4,000 votes and went from unemployment to a $70,000-a-year job.

"God is slow, but God is sure," she said in a recent interview.

Yesterday, Strasdauskas wept, as she did Monday, when she was sworn in and received the biggest ovation given to any elected county official by the inaugural audience.

She repeated her campaign motto, that she will be "fair, firm and impartial" in dealing with the deputies who guard the Towson Circuit courthouse, serve warrants and transport prisoners.

Strasdauskas got the idea to run against her boss more than a year ago during a casual conversation with Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe.

The judge recalled Strasdauskas saying, " 'I have half a mind to run for this office myself.' I said, 'Go for it. You may not win the first time out, but get your name out there and run hard.' "

The campaign gained widespread publicity when Pepersack released to The Sun 11 pending disciplinary accusations against Strasdauskas -- which she had not seen. That sparked a court fight about whether disciplinary files are public documents.

One of the people not smiling at yesterday's roll call was Lt. Michael Porter -- the man who led Pepersack's internal investigation of disciplinary charges against then-Deputy Strasdauskas.

Porter said he is not worried about his relationship with his new boss.

"Because I'm a professional, whatever the sheriff tells me to do, I'll do. She said we all have a clean slate. I feel that way, too," he said.

Strasdauskas, sitting in her courthouse office with its bare walls, said she knows that some deputies and officers are not happy with her election.

L "It's out there, but do I lose sleep over it? No," she said.

On her desk is a large Buzz Lightyear toy from the movie "Toy Story."

She said it's her favorite character, because "Buzz thought he could fly, and so do I."

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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