City native Simms earns high marks

Colleagues describe former state's attorney as hardworking, honest, widely respected

April 28, 2006|By GREG GARLAND | GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTER

The people who have worked with Stuart O. Simms over the years describe him as a thoughtful, accomplished and widely respected leader.

As former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's head of public safety and correctional services, Simms, a Democrat, oversaw one of the state's largest departments - with 12,000 employees and an annual budget of $900 million.

He handled the job deftly, according to those who reported to him.

"I respect and admire the man very much," said William W. Sondervan, a Simms deputy who was later appointed to oversee the state's prison system.

Born in Baltimore, Simms, 55, had a solidly middle-class upbringing. His mother was a school teacher, and his father worked at Bethlehem Steel.

A football star at the private all-boys Gilman School in Baltimore and at Dartmouth College, Simms went on to earn a law degree from Harvard School of Law and launched a career in public service. He was one of the first blacks to graduate from Gilman, where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., too, was a football standout.

Simms was a federal prosecutor under then-U.S. Attorney Jervis S. Finney in the late 1970s, then went to work for the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office - headed at the time by Kurt L. Schmoke.

After Schmoke was elected mayor in 1987, Simms took over as the city's top prosecutor. He has long been close to Schmoke, who graduated from Harvard's law school a year after Simms.

Early in his tenure, Simm's most notable cases involved the prosecutions of two black politicians. Judges praised him for his intelligence and integrity.

He was stung, though, by a 1992 city grand jury report - later discredited - that accused his office of thwarting drug investigations involving high-profile suspects. The state prosecutor found no basis for the allegations. Simms blasted the report as unfair and amateurish.

Simms stepped down as state's attorney in 1995, becoming Glendening's secretary of juvenile services. Two years later, he was appointed to head the sprawling public safety department, which runs the state's prisons, parole and probation offices, victim services and other programs.

Public safety and juvenile services are considered among the most difficult of state agencies to manage, because they often are understaffed and employees complain of low wages and poor working conditions.

Sondervan, the former prisons chief who left his position several months after Republican Ehrlich took office in 2003, called Simms a capable manager who gave him latitude to run the prison system. He said Simms was always supportive and respectful.

"He's an honest, decent, hardworking, intelligent man," Sondervan said. "He cares about people. He's genuine."

Andrew D. Levy, a partner in Brown, Goldstein and Levy in Baltimore, where Simms has practiced since 2003, said his colleague tackled tough jobs throughout his public service career, earning respect and creating few enemies.

"You may be able to find someone to say something bad about him, but I doubt it," Levy said. "He's amazingly well respected."

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., director of public information when Simms headed public safety, said Simms was a consensus builder who, in any policy dispute, was always asking what was best for the citizens of Maryland. "Stu is a good manager, is the bottom line," Sipes said. "He'd make a wonderful lieutenant governor for lots of different reasons."

Several people who have worked with him described Simms as modest and low-key - despite his impressive academic credentials and resume.

"Given all that he's accomplished and the important positions he's held, he's the most remarkably modest and unassuming guy you can imagine," said Levy.

Warren A. Brown, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Baltimore, said Simms is respected, has "an excellent pedigree and is a man of substance."

But Brown said Simms has no political following and is so low-key and unassuming that he wonders if Duncan's choice will excite anyone. "He's a very, very well-rounded person," Brown said. "What kind of politician he'll make is a different story. He's an honest, forthright individual, and, quite frankly, that is antithetical to political life."

Neal M. Janey, a Baltimore attorney who worked with Simms in the U.S. Attorney's Office, said it would be a mistake to underestimate Simms' political acumen.

"He's not flamboyant, but I think he will project a great persona during the campaign."

greg.garland@baltsun.com

STUART O. SIMMS

Born:

Baltimore, July 17, 1950

Education:

Gilman School, captain of football team; B.A., government, Dartmouth College, 1972; J.D., Harvard University School of Law, 1975

Career:

Attorney, Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore, focus on civil litigation, criminal defense and government; in Cabinet of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, 1995-2003, first as secretary of juvenile justice, then as secretary of public safety and correctional services

Baltimore State's Attorney, 1987-1995; deputy state's attorney, 1983-1987; assistant U.S. attorney, 1978-1982; staff counsel to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, 1977-1978

Personal:

Resides in Baltimore; married with two sons

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