Court panel to inform Bush of concerns about DiBiagio

Failure to attend meetings, gun case stance criticized

October 10, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A local court-reform council admonished U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio yesterday for failing to attend its meetings and for not prosecuting more Baltimore gun cases. It voted unanimously to voice those concerns in a letter to President Bush.

Yesterday's rebuke was at least the second time this year that DiBiagio has been criticized for refusing to show up at the council's monthly meetings.

Del. Joan Cadden, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and chairwoman of the appropriations public safety subcommittee, suggested sending the letter. It was a notion that Mayor Martin O'Malley, who previously slammed DiBiagio for not attending, quickly endorsed.

"Was that a motion?" O'Malley asked when Cadden mentioned sending the letter. "I second."

In January, O'Malley, a member of the council, had recommended sending a similar letter to DiBiagio's boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft. That letter was never sent.

Yesterday, DiBiagio spokeswoman Virginia Evans declined to comment on DiBiagio's nonattendance at council meetings and his handling of gun cases, referring to his previous statements on the issue.

O'Malley and DiBiagio have been at odds for months over DiBiagio's approach to prosecuting city gun cases, a policy that the mayor characterized in June as "cowardly."

O'Malley believes the federal prosecutor should be taking on more gun cases.

DiBiagio has parried the mayor's criticism, saying that his office will pursue routine "felon-in-possession" cases in federal court only if the defendant would face a longer prison term than in state court.

DiBiagio has acknowledged that would mean fewer firearm cases but has said his office can have a greater impact focusing on convicting violent, well-orchestrated drug gangs and criminals caught carrying guns while committing other crimes -- a pairing that means longer federal prison sentences.

Cadden said she thinks DiBiagio should attend the meetings and linked that to the U.S. attorney's role in gun prosecutions.

"I believe that the coordinating council has been set up to address the critical needs of Baltimore City and the gun issues that are a part of everyday life in Baltimore City. ... And in light of that, I think he should be there or at least send a representative," Cadden said.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger, in charge of the criminal docket and the chairman of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, said he has sent at least four letters to DiBiagio inviting him to attend the monthly CJCC meetings.

"I have received responses to each and every communication, but he has made it clear he will not attend the CJCC meetings," Berger said.

In a letter to Berger dated Aug. 14, DiBiagio thanked him for an invitation to attend the council's meeting but said: "Unfortunately, I must decline your invitation. If you would like to meet with me to discuss our efforts to aggressively prosecute violent crime in Baltimore city, please do not hesitate to contact me."

Berger hopes to draft a copy of the letter to Bush over the weekend.

He stressed that he is sending the letter on behalf of the council and not in his capacity as a judge.

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