State's attorneys

Maryland Votes 2006

August 30, 2006

Today The Sun begins its endorsements for the Sept. 12 primary election with races for state's attorney in Baltimore County and Baltimore City and for Carroll County commissioner.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor is going to be a hard act to follow. A prominent Republican, she has served with distinction for 30 years, overseeing an office of well-respected lawyers who have followed her tough-on-crime lead. With her retirement this year, the election offers the first truly contested race for state's attorney in nearly two decades. It promises new leadership, a new direction and a chance for Democrats to reclaim the office.

There is no Republican primary.

But Democratic voters have a choice, between a consummate trial attorney with a winning record in court and a telegenic personal injury lawyer who built a 50-person law firm by advertising on TV. Stephen L. Miles should need no introduction. Although he has spent most of the past five years raising two young daughters, the semi-retired Mr. Miles wants to finish out his legal career with public service. That's an admirable ambition for a straight-talking lawyer, but his trial experience lacks the depth and variety of his challenger, Scott D. Shellenberger.

Since 1993, Mr. Shellenberger has been suing asbestos manufacturers on behalf of sick and dying workers, time-consuming, complex litigation. But before that, he served 11 years in Mrs. O'Connor's office and he has excelled as a prosecutor, including in the state's death penalty case against convicted murderer and rapist Steven H. Oken. While both candidates say they will uphold the state's death penalty law, Mr. Shellenberger will commit to nothing more than to review each case eligible for the death penalty "on a case-by-case" basis. He also opposes a moratorium on the death penalty because he says there are enough checks in the system to ensure its judicious use. But we are not as confident of that and have criticized Mrs. O'Connor for seeking the death penalty in every eligible case with few exceptions. That policy has defined the office, and it shouldn't, not today, when county police cite an increase in robberies as the most pressing criminal concern and caution that juvenile offenders are committing more serious crimes than in the past.

Despite concerns about how often he will seek the death penalty, Mr. Shellenberger is grounded in the daily workings of a prosecutor's office. He'll demand skilled lawyering from prosecutors; he's earned a chance at the top job.

In Baltimore, incumbent State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's experience vastly outweighs that of her Democratic primary challenger, Stephan W. Fogleman. In recent years, Mrs. Jessamy has modernized the office's computer capability, won overdue pay raises for prosecutors, championed the fight against witness intimidation and launched police retrainings on evidence procedures to improve prosecutions. A newcomer to the city, Mr. Fogleman hasn't distinguished himself enough to unseat the popular, feisty veteran prosecutor. But his attacks on Mrs. Jessamy's office have pointed up her often stormy relationship with City Hall and the Police Department. As we have lamented before, the discord is counterproductive, and it undermines the public's confidence in the difficult work required of prosecutors and police.

There is no Republican primary.

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