Calling Miss Manners

March 10, 2006

CLARIFICATION

An editorial Friday should have stated that Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is committed to a caseload study of her office, but will not submit to a management audit.

A City Council review of the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy got off to a rousing - and embarrassing - start Wednesday. City Council members Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake and James B. Kraft had every right to know why Mrs. Jessamy had not followed through with a management audit requested by City Hall last year. But the shoutfest that followed, according to an account in The Sun, and the council members' decision to abruptly cancel the hearing and walk out, left the city's top prosecutor at the microphone. That's no way to treat a lady, even one with a sharp tongue. And it doesn't serve the public's interest.

Ms. Rawlings Blake and Mr. Kraft should have pressed on and questioned Mrs. Jessamy about her caseload and conviction rates, matters very much in the public's interest and for which Mrs. Jessamy should be held accountable. But after some habitual complaining, Mrs. Jessamy didn't have a chance to defend her record or explain the drop in her felony conviction rate from 78 percent in 2004 to 67 percent last year. Here is a sampling of what she would have talked about: intimidation of witnesses; 114 police officers who didn't show up for trial; 418 illegal searches; 724 cases in which evidence of a crime couldn't be linked to defendants. And so on.

Mrs. Jessamy does owe the council - and the voters - an explanation about the management analysis that was requested in connection with an additional $1.9 million pledged for her office last year. Here's what she wrote last year in a letter on the matter: "I will consider and explore the possibility of a caseload study by an outside qualified independent entity and will keep you apprised as discussions develop." But now Mrs. Jessamy says she won't submit to a management analysis until the Police Department's crime statistics undergo a similar review, a point of contention in Mayor Martin O'Malley's run for governor.

After accusing the council members of trying to discredit her, Mrs. Jessamy is now engaging in political tit-for-tat. She says she will insist that the city's cable access channel run and rerun footage of her treatment by the council. To what end? Mrs. Jessamy was right when she said yesterday that the City Council should "be looking for ways to increase the public's confidence" in the criminal justice system. And so should she.

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