Maryland high court rebukes Montgomery state's attorney

Gansler's remarks to media outside court called an ethics violation

November 13, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court ordered a reprimand yesterday of Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler for remarks he made to the media that the Attorney Grievance Commission argued could have tainted cases.

The decision marks the first time the Maryland Court of Appeals has disciplined an attorney for breaching the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions mischaracterized the Maryland Court of Appeals reprimand of Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler. It is not the first time the state's highest court has disciplined an attorney for breaching the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct. In fact, the reprimand is the first to an attorney for violating the portion of the rules dealing with improper remarks to the media in a criminal case. The Sun regrets the error.

In a unanimous opinion, the court stated that between 2000 and 2001, Gansler violated those rules when he "spoke outside of the court about matters that had substantial likelihood of depriving several criminal defendants of fair trials."

The court upheld the April decision of Frederick County Circuit Judge Julie R. Stevenson that Gansler violated the trial publicity section of the Maryland Rules in his remarks before the start of a high-profile Montgomery County murder trial. Gansler told reporters that he and his colleagues planned to offer a plea bargain to James Edward Perry, who was facing a retrial after the high court erased his conviction in a 1993 triple murder in Silver Spring.

The Attorney Grievance Commission first brought charges against Gansler in November of last year. At the time, he called the charges "ridiculous."

Reached by phone from Houston last night, Gansler insisted that, contrary to the court's opinion, he did not make statements about anything that was not already public.

"I have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to inform the public of what's going on in the criminal justice system," he said. "Clearly from the inception of this, the aim was to hurt me politically. I don't think it will be successful."

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