Baltimore's top prosecutor rebutted yesterday recent criticism by city judges about how her office handles evidence in criminal cases, saying their reading of the law is "inaccurate."
State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said at a City Council hearing that the judges - not her lawyers - need to learn the law about the exchange of evidence, known as discovery. Her statements were immediately rejected by the judge who oversees the criminal docket.
"Judges are inaccurate," Jessamy told the council members at a hearing on relations between police and prosecutors. "Believe me, we are on the law here."
Jessamy said she has had conversations with the Maryland attorney general's office and the chief of the criminal docket, city Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell, "about what we can do in terms of training judges as to discovery and disclosure issues."
In an interview, Mitchell flatly rejected Jessamy's statements, saying he proposed three weeks ago that prosecutors and defense lawyers undergo training on evidence issues because of recent high-profile clashes in the courtroom. They have agreed, he said.
"I am not in any discussions with anyone nor have I been in any discussions with anyone regarding training judges on discovery issues," Mitchell said.
Also at the hearing, Jessamy said she supported creating a unit that would prosecute police corruption cases only. She said she proposed the idea because of "strained" relations between her office and police after she decided to drop a misconduct case against an officer accused of planting drugs on an innocent man.
Those relations were further strained when the prosecutor who handles police corruption cases, Elizabeth A. Ritter, called a local radio show under a pseudonym to attack the Police Department. That prompted Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris to call for her removal from such cases.
The new unit will not include Ritter, whom Jessamy praised for her "outstanding track record" in police corruption cases.
"There was a lot of bad blood," Jessamy said. "I decided that she needed a break."
For more than 90 minutes, council members pressed Jessamy on issues ranging from her budget to relations with police to discovery problems.
In the past six weeks, five judges have chastised her prosecutors for not disclosing evidence that could help a defendant or failing completely to turn over evidence. Their comments were made two years after federal consultants and judges put Jessamy on notice that evidence problems in her office were a serious concern.
Jessamy repeatedly denied yesterday that significant evidence problems existed. At one point, Councilwoman Lois Garey read out loud a judge's quote from a newspaper article that criticized Ritter's handling of evidence in a police brutality case.
"Ms. Ritter is right and the judge is wrong?" Garey asked.
Yes, Jessamy responded. "We called the attorney general's office and they said, `Yes, the judge is inaccurate,'" she said.
Jessamy said that in her memory, no conviction won by her office was overturned because of evidence issues.
But two years ago, The Sun chronicled the case of a man whose first-degree murder conviction was erased after it was revealed that defense lawyers were not given critical information.