After 7 1/2 years, office `1,000 percent better'

Incumbent: Patricia C. Jessamy

August 25, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Patricia C. Jessamy, the first woman to become Baltimore state's attorney, faces her first stiff competition for the job in the 7 1/2 years she has held the office.

Jessamy adamantly says she has helped to reduce crime, and dismisses criticism that her office has fumbled important cases and allowed criminals to go free.

"They don't know where the office was when I became state's attorney," Jessamy said of her critics, who have included Mayor Martin O'Malley. "This office is 1,000 percent better than it was when I got here."

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said Jessamy hasn't let the criticism deter her from doing quality work.

"She's done a good job," Schmoke said. "Some of the criticism she's received she's really learned from."

The 17-year veteran of the city state's attorney's office grew up on her family's farm in Mississippi. She graduated from Jackson State University in 1970, and earned a law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1974.

She and her husband, Howard, a vice president with an executive search firm, have a daughter and three grandchildren.

She was thrust into the public eye in 1995 when she was appointed from deputy state's attorney to the top job by her predecessor, Stuart O. Simms. And although she has garnered political support from Schmoke, Simms and others, Jessamy has hit some rough patches.

Some have stemmed from her apparent discomfort with being in the limelight. She has not always been seen as a deft politician, and until this year, flatly refused to explain her decisions to the public.

But the campaign has forced Jessamy to answer for what has been perceived as a series of mishandled cases.

Last week on WYPR radio's Marc Steiner Show, she debated the other candidates, and answered a question about one such case - Courtney Noakes, a 21-year-old man who beat three murder charges.

"Courtney Noakes was acquitted by a jury the first time, in the second case there were witness problems, and in the third instance, the judge stated that the information that led her to dismiss the case was brought to the prosecutors' attention that morning," Jessamy said.

She said it's not fair to judge her office based on a few cases.

"My record is outstanding," Jessamy said. "We are at the forefront of the reform of the criminal justice system."

She pointed to technological advances she says she has brought to the office, as well as state and federal grants she secured to pay prosecutors when city funds weren't available.

She has repeatedly clashed with O'Malley on issues since he took office in 2000, and he has repeatedly chided her, all but calling for her to resign last year.

At Jessamy's request, her spokeswoman, Margaret T. Burns, called a news conference last month to say that O'Malley was "hoodwinking" the public and that he doesn't have a comprehensive crime-fighting strategy.

Jessamy said her responsibility is to citizens, not the mayor.

"Baltimore deserves an independent, hard-working, honest prosecutor," Jessamy said. "Someone who will make decisions based on the law, the facts and the evidence - not political, popular, pecuniary or personal interests."

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