Montgomery state's attorney in dispute over media remarks

September 06, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler should be reprimanded for making remarks to the news media that could have prejudiced a notorious murder case, a lawyer for the state's legal disciplinary agency told the state's highest court yesterday.

But Gansler's lawyer said that the rules are too vague and do not bar state's attorneys from repeating information that is already before the public.

This is the first time the Court of Appeals has looked at prosecutors and pretrial publicity. A ruling could remold the Rules of Professional Conduct for publicity in criminal cases.

Gansler, 40, who has kept a high profile since his 1998 election, is accused by the Attorney Grievance Commission of violating the conduct rules.

Those rules include instructions for lawyers to refrain from making statements outside court that could taint a case.

In April, a Frederick County judge found that Gansler improperly told news media he was giving lawyers in the murder-for-hire case of James Edward Perry six weeks to decide on a plea bargain. Perry was facing a retrial after the high court erased his conviction in a 1993 triple-murder in Silver Spring.

John C. Broderick, assistant bar counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission, contended that a prosecutor should not disclose allegations in charging papers -- public documents that are the police's basis for an arrest -- and should not direct people to information.

"You're saying he can't comment publicly and can't tell people where to find it?" asked Judge Dale R. Cathell.

Broderick replied that this is not the prosecutor's role. But Carmen M. Shepard, Gansler's attorney, said there is a huge gap between disclosing and repeating information.

Afterward, Gansler said he has not made statements about anything that was not already public. He said the commission combed through four years of his statements for remarks to use against him, and then filed its complaint against its internal panel's opinion just before he sought re-election last year.

He said that part of his job is to "inform the public about the criminal justice system."

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