His sparring in Md. courts says volumes about Keating

August 04, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

THE KID in the blow-up black-and-white photo was more toddler than boy, a lad of 3 with a mop of curly blond hair adorning his tiny pate. He had his dukes up, the right fist close to his chest and the left farther out and up near his chin.

"I've always been a fighter," Anton James Sean Keating said as he looked at the childhood picture of himself. It must be in the genes. His father, Charles Keating, was heavyweight boxing champion of the British army during World War II and later a professional boxer. He taught both his boys, Anton and Charles, to box at an early age.

Keating has done most of his sparring in Maryland's courts. As a law student, he interned in the state's attorney's office for three years. From 1970 until 1973, he was the chief prosecutor in the state's attorney's office, arguing some 70 capital cases and 40 jury trials.

With the backing of Milton Allen, the city's first African-American state's attorney, Keating launched a six-month grand jury investigation in 1972 into drug trafficking and sexual assaults at the Baltimore City Jail that resulted in the removal of the jail board president and Hiram Schoonfield, the warden of that facility.

"He used to walk along the tiers with two bulldogs," Keating said of Schoonfield. "Can you imagine that? A white guy in a jail of mostly black inmates walking along with two bulldogs?"

He was talking in front of a framed newspaper article about the investigation that adorned the second floor wall of his downtown West Madison Street office. That article, along with others and an assortment of photos, are part of what Keating calls his "rogue's gallery."

After leaving the state's attorney's office, Keating did a five-year stint on the other side of the courtroom as an assistant public defender. He put in two years as chief counsel of the Medicaid fraud control unit of the state attorney general's office before taking up private practice in 1981.

In 1978, Keating ran against incumbent State's Attorney William Swisher and lost in the primary. Ever the scrapper, he's decided 24 years later to have another go at it. Keating is in this year's race for state's attorney, squaring off against incumbent Patricia Jessamy and hopeful Lisa Joi Stancil, who represents the 3rd District on the City Council.

"Lisa's ambition exceeds her talent," Keating said of Stancil, who, he maintains, has virtually no experience. Jessamy he sees as running a state's attorney's office in disarray.

Keating said the operation run by Baltimore's chief prosecutor is messed up. It's not just the cases lost because of violations of the discovery process. Keating criticized Jessamy for her office's handling of the Michael Austin case as well.

"Pat dropped the ball with Austin," Keating said of Jessamy's attempt to block the release of a man convicted solely on the testimony of a lone eyewitness who subsequently recanted. "I think Pat made a big mistake. She cost the guy an extra year."

Keating will tell you without a hint of arrogance that he will do a better job than Stancil or Jessamy. If you look at the press clippings he's gathered over the years, it's hard to argue with him. Phrases such as "outstanding," "excellent," "one of Maryland's most respected criminal lawyers" and "prosecutor extraordinaire, defense counsel par excellence" abound.

"[He] may know more about Baltimore's criminal justice system than anyone else," editorialized the City Paper in 1978.

Despite his qualifications and recommendations, Keating's main obstacles may be the ones he can do nothing about: his race and his gender.

An Irish-American via Great Britain and Canada, Keating finds himself pitted against two black women in a predominantly African-American city. But Keating doesn't see himself as the white candidate, just the best one.

This is the guy who did a study of the death penalty for Judge Joseph Howard, Baltimore's first black elected Supreme Bench judge, and concluded, like fellow maverick Howard, that race is a factor in who does or does not get executed.

As an assistant state's attorney, Keating had a picture of black Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving a black power salute adorning his office wall. No ordinary white guy, this Keating.

That's why Keating's not troubled that he, Mayor Martin O'Malley and police Commissioner Ed Norris would form a "white triumvirate" in Baltimore should he beat Jessamy and Stancil. He may even find the notion intriguing.

Think of it: two gruff, tough, outspoken Irishmen holding the top two posts in a predominantly African-American city.

The possibilities for the sheer fun of such a development brought a hearty chuckle from the British boxer's son.

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