Keating enters race for state's attorney's office

Baltimore lawyer is only official candidate

April 29, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Longtime attorney Anton J.S. Keating launched his candidacy for city state's attorney yesterday, promising a simple plan for prosecutorial fairness - an oblique swipe at incumbent Patricia C. Jessamy.

Keating had wanted to release 259 balloons to symbolize the number of homicides in Baltimore last year. But that's littering - a crime. Instead, he announced his candidacy inside a Charles Street restaurant, where he talked of restoring integrity to the city prosecutor's office.

"The weakest link in the criminal justice system has become the state's attorney's office," he said.

Keating is not the first to announce his candidacy, but he is the only candidate officially in the race.

Warren A. Brown began his campaign in September, then quit the race five days later amid negative media reports about his finances and his professional and private life.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Monday's editions of The Sun on the campaign for Baltimore state's attorney incorrectly stated the date of the primary election, which will be held Sept. 10. The Sun regrets the error.

But Friday, evidently counting on the vast capacity of voters who would be willing to forgive, Brown said he might run again.

"It was a kind of a relief when I decided to get out of the race, and I was OK with that for a while. I was actually hoping that someone would step forward," he said. "But no one has stepped forward."

City Councilwoman Lisa J. Stancil is setting up her campaign office on North Charles Street. She plans to announce her candidacy May 7 at Zion Lutheran Church across from City Hall. The invitation promises the attendance of the Philadelphia Mummers, costumed musicians.

These Democrats will face Jessamy, who has been in office unopposed since 1995, in the primary election Sept. 1. Jessamy doesn't seem worried, even though she has never had to fight for the office. She has a campaign manager-in-waiting, graphic designer Patrick Scott, and has held one fund-raiser at the Hyatt Hotel.

In such a heavily Democratic city, the primary normally would be the end of the election. But this year Republican Andrew C. White might challenge in the November general election.

"I'm definitely considering running," said White, a trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor. If he does, he probably would announce his candidacy the middle of next month.

Scott said Jessamy, who has long complained that her office is starved of funds, will run on her record.

"She has performed in the job for eight years, under whatever the conditions were. And everyone in the city should be made aware of what those conditions were, and what the results were," he said.

A newsletter her office published last week led with an article called: "Baltimore City State's Attorney Speaks on Violence, Guns, and Funding."

Every other candidate plans to run on Jessamy's record as well. "I think she and I disagree on what fairness means," said Keating, referring to Jessamy's resistance to dropping a flawed case against Michael Austin, who spent 27 years in prison for a killing he didn't commit.

Keating also mentioned botched murder cases in which he believes prosecutors have dealt unfairly with defendants by withholding evidence. "I won't allow them to hide evidence," he said of prosecutors. "If they do, I'll fire them."

His plan is to bring former Circuit Judge Peter D. Ward into the state's attorney's office as a training director to improve prosecutors' performance.

Stancil said last week her platform would be two-fold: "No. 1, no crime will go unpunished, and No. 2, you can have trust and confidence in me."

Stancil said a lack of confidence in the state's attorney's office has contributed to witnesses not showing up at trials. "There's this feeling that there's not going to be any accountability," she said.

Brown has said he would toughen the office's image on the streets. As one of Baltimore's most active defense attorneys, he knows criminals perceive the system as weak.

"The only name recognition Jessamy has is negative name recognition," he said.

With the filing deadline for the race two months away, the pool of five potential candidates could grow. It's an open secret that Mayor Martin O'Malley is not thrilled by any of the candidates and hopes to recruit someone.

Julius Henson, a Stancil consultant, welcomes all contenders. "The more people in the race, the smaller the piece we need to win," he said.

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