Stancil confident of defeating Jessamy in state's attorney race

May 05, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

WHAT ARE LISA Stancil's chances of wresting the state's attorney's office away from incumbent Patricia C. Jessamy this election year?

"It's not about chance," she'll tell you without the slightest trace of fake humility but more than a barrelful of confidence. "I will be the next state's attorney for Baltimore City."

Stancil was sitting this day in the office of her campaign headquarters in the 2100 block of Charles St. She sat behind a desk and chatted with the annoying columnist. She wore a skirt-and-jacket outfit that was shocking red: perhaps the better to announce the shock she plans to pull off this September by winning the Democratic primary for state's attorney.

Stancil serves as one of the three 3rd District representatives on the Baltimore City Council, where she is vice chairwoman of the Finance Committee. Legislative experience is not the only thing she counts as one of her qualifications. She also serves as a special assistant counsel to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, a job she started in 1996. Perhaps most crucial to Stancil's campaign to win the hearts and minds - and votes - of Baltimoreans away from Jessamy is what she did from July 1994 until December 1996.

Stancil worked in the state's attorney's office, where she was the prosecutor for two police districts. She handled about 60 cases a week in District Court and focused on domestic violence crimes.

As an assistant state's attorney, Stancil prosecuted a Baltimore police officer who was charged with pointing his gun at his ex-girlfriend and a man the woman was dating. The officer fired his gun and hit a car. That was in 1995.

Two years later, that officer shot and killed James Quarles near Lexington Market. The officer's name was Charles Smothers, the man Baltimore's rabble made the Poster Boy for Domestic Violence and candidate for first-degree murder. But Jessamy refused to file charges against Smothers, whose testimony that Quarles tightened his grip on a knife he refused to drop and moved his foot toward Smothers was backed up by several witnesses. Stancil said, if she were state's attorney, she would have handled the matter differently.

"That was someone I knew should not be entrusted with a gun and with the public's trust," Stancil said of Smothers. "I would have sent the case to the grand jury."

Well, she's wrong on that one. But even a Western High grad can be wrong, on rare occasions.

Stancil's not as sure about what she would have done in the case of Larry Hubbard - who was shot in the head by a police officer as Hubbard struggled with his partner for a gun - she said, because she doesn't have enough information on the matter. She said she was more certain she would not have adopted the position Jessamy took on the Michael Austin case.

Austin was released after 27 years' imprisonment. The original prosecutor and two former state's attorneys, William Swisher and Kurt L. Schmoke, expressed doubts about his guilt. But not Jessamy, whose office opposed Austin's release at every turn.

"There were some real problems with his initial conviction," Stancil said. "It seemed to be everyone's analysis that this man was wronged for 27 years. The state's attorney's office should be about the business of looking for justice."

Stancil said Jessamy - in the matters of Smothers and Austin, at least - was at odds with the wishes of the majority of Baltimore's citizens. But that's not the only reason she's running. Jessamy took over as state's attorney after Stancil had been in the office a few months. By December 1996, Stancil said, she had had enough. "It was only because of my frustration with the office," Stancil said of her decision to leave. "There was no clear direction or policy."

If elected, Stancil said, her first order of business will be to conduct an operational audit of the state's attorney's office. That will get to the bottom of the office's problems with cases blown because of discovery violations or not having defendants tried within 180 days.

It would be quite a coup if this native Baltimorean - who left private school and "gave up that green uniform" her senior year to attend Western - were able to pull off an upset and move to within a perfunctory general election of being our next state's attorney. Stancil is sure she can do it. It's hard to doubt her. Being a Western alum in this town might be good for about 5,000 or so votes.

So sure is she of victory that she says she knows what the theme of her tenure will be: that no crime will go unpunished.

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