Jessamy notes budget in shunning governor's conference on gun crime

She says she'll be forced to lay off city prosecutors

March 19, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy refused to attend a State House conference on gun crime yesterday, rebuffing the governor's efforts to build consensus among law enforcement officers for a new program he favors.

Jessamy told Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a letter that she wouldn't participate in the Project Exile event - which brought together Ehrlich and U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio for the first time in more than a year - because the governor's budget would force her to lay off prosecutors.

"I don't consider it a snub. I consider it sending a message," said Jessamy, who was in Annapolis trying to restore money for her office.

Jessamy says she asked for $1.7 million in state funding for 14 prosecutors and 12 support staff. The governor has proposed giving her $1 million, which the Senate is considering cutting.

Without the additional $700,000, Jessamy said, she will pull prosecutors from "non-mandated" functions, including handling charging at the city's Central Booking Intake Center, an early resolution program and the drug treatment court.

"It makes no sense to gain better legislation to allow for the best firearms prosecution possible, only to lay off nine gun prosecutors," said Jessamy in her letter.

After the one-hour conference, Ehrlich insisted that he has good relations with the city state's attorney and that she would be a full participant in Maryland's Project Exile program, which is modeled on a venture in Richmond, Va.

"Pat will be on board, I believe," Ehrlich said. But he added, "You would hope that she would be there [at the conference]. People expect leadership."

In response, Jessamy said, "He needs to lead and show leadership by providing us money."

She questioned why Ehrlich's budget has $786,000 for a city "war room" to bring together prosecutors, defenders and parole and probation officers to respond to serious crimes.

"There's no way I could participate in the opening of a `war room' that takes money away from prosecutors," Jessamy said.

Ehrlich said he has long supported Richmond's Project Exile and that bringing the program to Maryland was a priority. "We want to be judged on our success in this sector," he said.

However, an administration bill that would set up Project Exile has met with skepticism in the General Assembly. A recent study raised doubts about whether Richmond's drop in crime was attributable to the program - which uses federal prosecutors for many gun crimes and sends criminals to distant federal prisons - or other factors.

Among other things, Ehrlich's bill would require prison sentences of five years for the use of any firearm during the commission of a felony or violent crime, and would make it a felony to possess with criminal intent a firearm on school property.

DiBiagio has said he is starting a version of Project Exile in Baltimore and Prince George's County.

Speaking yesterday, he outlined steps he said were in place - even without new legislation - to crack down on gun-using criminals. He said his office has increased its prosecution of gun cases, and will cooperate with state prosecutors.

"The bad guys need to know that they are going to be prosecuted where they get the biggest hit," he said, adding that he supported Ehrlich's legislation and hoped the Assembly would approve it.

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