Maryland attorney general

Maryland Votes 2006

October 20, 2006

Today, The Sun continues its endorsements for the Nov. 7 general election with races for Maryland attorney general and state's attorneys in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

With a staff of 500 and duties that range from providing legal counsel to state agencies to arguing criminal appeals, Maryland's attorney general should have a broad range of legal expertise and a proven administrative record. Douglas F. Gansler, who has served two terms as Montgomery County state's attorney and six years as an assistant U.S. attorney, fits the bill. He is clearly the best choice for this important job.

Mr. Gansler, a Democrat, is brash and aggressive, and his outspokenness has sometimes gotten him into trouble. Several years ago, he was reprimanded by the Maryland Court of Appeals for statements he made to reporters regarding two criminal prosecutions. Mr. Gansler has atoned for that mistake - but his candor in other matters is (fortunately) unabated.

Far more important, Mr. Gansler would uphold the traditions of Baltimore's J. Joseph Curran Jr., the outgoing five-term incumbent, and his predecessor, Stephen H. Sachs, who insisted an attorney general should be an independent advocate and consumer watchdog whose most important client is the people of Maryland. Mr. Gansler has pledged to build on this tradition by beefing up the attorney general's role in upholding environmental protection laws and assisting local prosecutors in cracking down on gang-related violence.

He also offers a reasonable and balanced approach to controversial multistate lawsuits against large corporations. Mr. Gansler says he would first evaluate the benefits for Maryland residents and then sit down with potential defendants to offer companies the opportunity to take corrective action before he would recommend joining regional or national litigation.

Mr. Gansler's opponent, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, is also well qualified to be attorney general. In many respects, the two candidates' views of the office are strikingly similar. Like Mr. Gansler, he believes the position does not call for a gubernatorial lapdog.

However, Mr. Rolle lacks Mr. Gansler's depth of experience overseeing such high-profile cases as the 2002 sniper killings. As the state's largest county, Montgomery simply produces a much more demanding caseload than its neighbor to the west, and Mr. Gansler's team of attorneys is widely regarded as the state's best.

STATE'S ATTORNEYS

BALTIMORE COUNTY

Voters here have the choice of two experienced trial lawyers to replace retiring State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor. Both Mrs. O'Connor's deputy, Republican Steve Bailey, and his Democratic challenger, defense attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, have strong credentials to be the county's top prosecutor because they both have done well on their respective sides of the bar.

But Mr. Shellenberger has a more diverse background, having served as a county prosecutor and then in private practice, where he specialized in complex personal-injury cases. He will bring a fresh perspective on policy and staffing to an office that has been the domain of a single elected official for the past 30 years, albeit one of Maryland's most respected public servants. Mr. Shellenberger is our choice.

Like his opponent, Mr. Shellenberger got his start as a law clerk in Mrs. O'Connor's office. Both he and Mr. Bailey honed their skills there as young prosecutors. When Mr. Shellenberger left the office 11 years ago to join the law firm of Peter G. Angelos, Mr. Bailey was beginning his rise through the ranks of the office, earning the trust of Mrs. O'Connor, who appointed him one of her two deputies five years ago.

In that role, Mr. Bailey has supported and would continue Mrs. O'Connor's long practice of seeking the death penalty in every case that qualifies for it under the law, but for two exceptions. That's a critical difference from Mr. Shellenberger, who is opting for a case-by-case review, arguing that prosecutors use their judgment daily in deciding how to pursue cases - why should death penalty-eligible cases be any different? The O'Connor policy has long troubled us, since a 2003 University of Maryland study found geographic and racial disparities in the application of the state's death penalty law.

Mrs. O'Connor will be a tough act to follow because of her integrity, competence and nonpartisan approach to her duties. Mr. Shellenberger would serve the office well by emulating those qualities; he has the talent and experience to be a forceful leader in the county.

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

Incumbent State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, a Democrat, has earned our endorsement. He has served the county ably, if not with flair or finesse. Although the office's criminal caseload in Circuit Court has increased slightly, Mr. Weathersbee's prosecutors have maintained a steady, respectable conviction rate.

But, as Mr. Weathersbee's Republican challenger, attorney Dave Fischer, has pointed out, Arundel prosecutors have had some bruising losses at trial in the past year. That suggests a need to revise their practices to address new challenges. Mr. Weathersbee has the experience to set the right course.

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