City needs a real prosecutors' contest

Next year: Challenges to State's Attorney Jessamy are good for city's criminal justice system.

September 07, 2001

AT LEAST three lawyers intend to challenge State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's re-election bid next year. And it won't likely stop there.

In the coming months, a number of other opponents are likely to appear.

This is good for Baltimore City's troubled criminal justice system.

Part of the reason the prosecutor's office has developed so many problems is that incumbents have not faced serious challenges in the past two decades. Worse yet, two of the most recent state's attorneys rose to their posts without initial scrutiny by voters.

The first was Stuart O. Simms, a deputy who was picked to fill the vacancy created in 1987 when Kurt L. Schmoke was elected mayor.

After Mr. Simms took a Cabinet-level position with the state government in 1995, judges elevated his deputy, Ms. Jessamy. When time came for her to seek her own term, no one bothered to challenge her.

That's ridiculous.

Now that defense attorney Warren A. Brown has become the first candidate to formally announce a run for state's attorney, other challengers are emerging from the woodwork. City Council member Lisa J. Stancil is planning to run. So is defense attorney Anton J.S. Keating.

Political power brokers - from state senators to Mayor Martin O'Malley - will also look for candidates to support.

The city should benefit from a long campaign. Not only can all the challengers be subjected to thorough vetting, but Ms. Jessamy's strengths and weaknesses can be considered.

There will also be ample opportunity for examination of the structural problems in the prosecutor's office.

The ideal candidate should have considerable experience in handling criminal cases. That person also should have demonstrated management and leadership qualities.

Ms. Jessamy deserves a tough challenge. What happens in the end is up to the voters, when the time comes.

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