DiBiagio criticized for skipping meetings

O'Malley suggests contacting Ashcroft

January 10, 2002|By Allison Klein and Gail Gibson | Allison Klein and Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley criticized Maryland's new U.S. attorney yesterday for refusing to attend meetings of a local court reform council and suggested reporting the prosecutor's absence to his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft.

The mayor also took aim at State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who is a member of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council but infrequently attends the meetings. O'Malley said Jessamy and Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio should become more visible in efforts to fight street crime in Baltimore.

"I'm tempted to bring in cardboard cutouts of her and Mr. DiBiagio," O'Malley said in an interview after yesterday's meeting.

Jessamy, who would not comment on O'Malley's statement, was in Annapolis yesterday for the opening of the legislative session to talk to lawmakers about proposed changes to the state's wiretap laws. In recent weeks, she has raised her public profile as she seeks re-election.

DiBiagio also declined to respond to the mayor's criticism or talk about his decision not to participate in the council meetings, which his predecessor, former U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia, routinely attended.

Council Chairman Stuart R. Berger, a city circuit judge, said he had sent DiBiagio three letters asking him to attend the monthly meetings, where officials discuss efforts to reform the city's justice system. In one letter, Berger wrote that "it was difficult - if not impossible" for the council to discuss issues such as the federal government's role in prosecuting city gun crimes without a representative from the U.S. attorney's office. The meetings are regularly attended by the mayor, key judges, top police, jail officials and the public defender.

In a Dec. 19 letter in response to Berger, DiBiagio said it was not appropriate for federal prosecutors to participate directly in a committee created to reform the local courts. Instead, DiBiagio said, his office would work directly with local police and prosecutors.

"I believe that the most effective way to coordinate this effort is to engage in these discussions with local law enforcement officials," DiBiagio wrote.

O'Malley's comments yesterday marked the second time in DiBiagio's four months on the job that the mayor has publicly questioned his efforts to fight crime in Baltimore. Last month, O'Malley complained that a change in the criteria for federal gun-crime prosecutions meant that fewer gun crimes were winding up in the harsher federal court system.

At yesterday's meeting, O'Malley questioned whether Ashcroft, who has instructed the nation's federal prosecutors to work closely with local officials, would direct DiBiagio to participate in the council meetings. "This is so contrary to the instructions and tone and intent of Attorney General Ashcroft," O'Malley said. "I wonder if we should contact him."

Justice Department officials in Washington were not available for comment last night.

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