Accounts of woes led him to quit race, Brown says

Family, legal problems forced state's attorney candidate to drop bid

September 12, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

On Monday evening, five days after announcing his candidacy for Baltimore state's attorney, a dejected Warren A. Brown went home to his Guilford condo but couldn't bring himself to go in and face his family.

After reports of some of Brown's personal and business problems aired last week, some important backers pulled out. People weren't returning his phone calls. His estranged wife, he heard, was advised by her attorney to start divorce proceedings because he was suddenly vulnerable.

"I'm thinking: `I'm trying to help. Why is everyone attacking me?'" Brown said yesterday, explaining his decision to quit the race. He finally did go inside his house, and after talking with his mother, announced his decision to the news media.

Brown, who wanted to promote a platform that included using the death penalty as part of a tough-on-crime regime, instead found himself answering questions about personal income and business taxes he had failed to pay, about 2-year-old twins he fathered with his ex-wife's niece, and about a high-court reprimand.

The Sun reported that the state had placed liens against Brown for unpaid taxes dating to 1992. Several news organizations publicized the out-of-wedlock births.

And it had come out earlier that he and his former law partner, Lawrence B. Rosenberg, were found to have violated professional conduct rules by improperly administering a client escrow account and permitting a secretary to handle personal injury cases without supervision.

As punishment, the Maryland Court of Appeals reprimanded the lawyers. The Attorney Grievance Commission, which brought the case against Brown and his partner, had sought a much tougher sanction of a one-year suspension.

"This goes beyond negligence and ignorance of the Rules and indicates a failure to recognize their ethical obligations," commission attorneys said in court filings.

When he officially announced his plans to run, Brown, 48, said nothing his opponents threw at him would force him from the race, and that nothing in his background indicated he wasn't qualified to be state's attorney.

Yesterday, he said he knew his enemies would air his problems, but he didn't count on his friends taking them seriously.

They did.

An important financial supporter told him that in light of his problems, she no longer thought he could win. His phone calls to other potential backers went unreturned. Suddenly he couldn't see himself campaigning. "I entered a dark forest," he said.

The man partly responsible for Brown's lightning-speed political demise is campaign consultant Julius Henson, who called newspaper and television reporters with unflattering facts about Brown's private life before Brown had made his campaign official.

Henson is working for city Councilwoman Lisa J. Stancil, who plans to run for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's job in next fall's election. Defense attorney Anton J. Keating also might run, and Jessamy has said she will, too.

While Henson may have helped ruin Brown's chances, politics watchers say he may also have hurt Stancil's, since she is now associated with what many people consider low-handed tactics.

"I don't think what Julius Henson did is good for Ms. Stancil," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

"He's a political attack dog," Crenson said. "The thing that he doesn't seem to grasp is that it's OK to dig up dirt and make it public, but you don't take credit for it. That only guarantees your candidate will be colored by your tactics."

As for his campaign tactics possibly backfiring against Stancil, Henson said, "What's wrong with my tactics? This is a win-lose game. I didn't invent this. All these things that happened to Brown, that was his doing."

Henson said Stancil was out of town and could not be reached. Phone calls to her work and home were not answered.

Crenson said scrutiny of candidates' personal lives "has become a regular feature of Baltimore politics." The importance of fine character in public officials dates back a century, he said.

"Even for patronage appointees, the idea was that they would set a good moral example for the rest of the community. That part of politics seems to be largely forgotten."

But defense attorney William H. Murphy Jr., a Brown supporter, said the media's focus on private lives scares off talent.

"With Warren Brown's decision, we once again were victimized by the overzealous and essentially irrelevant scrutiny of personal life at the expense of policy," he said.

Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

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