Sheriff's race contested

Incumbent faces builder

court races on ballot

November 02, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

This year's race for Baltimore County sheriff pits an incumbent with more than three decades of experience in the Baltimore Police Department against a builder and home improvement contractor who has never worked in law enforcement.

R. Jay Fisher, a Democrat, is running for his second term against Timothy J. Caldwell, who switched to the Republican Party in 2002 after an unsuccessful run for the Democratic Central Committee.

The contest is one of several contested courthouse races.

Republican Stephen Bailey and Democrat Scott D. Shellenberger are vying for the job being vacated by longtime county State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor.

Republican J. Michael Collins, 57, is challenging longtime Circuit Court Clerk Suzanne Mensh, 77, a Democrat seeking her sixth term in the job and her 12th as an elected county official.

The circuit clerk manages an annual budget of about $10 million and a staff of 128 employees.

Mensh describes herself as "a trailblazer."

"When I began my career, there were very few women in the working world," she said. "Now, as a senior, I like to think that I inspire a lot of seniors, running for office at my age."

Collins said the time has come for a "different outlook" in the office, and he is running because he thinks his 24 years of midlevel management experience make him better qualified.

"I just think she's lacking in the management skills that are needed to bring that office into the 21st century," he said.

The sheriff department provides security at the county circuit courthouse, transporting inmates and defendants to the county Courts Building from the state's jails and prisons, and serving summonses, warrants and protective orders.

Because the county has a police department, sheriff's deputies are not empowered to investigate crimes or perform the broader law enforcement tasks that deputies perform in places without a county police force.

Fisher, 59, the incumbent, retired from the Baltimore Police Department four years ago after 33 years. He was operational commander of the warrant apprehension task force when he left.

In his first term, Fisher said, he beefed up security at the Courts Building, installing metal detectors at its entrances and a sophisticated closed-circuit surveillance system. He also developed a program that prioritizes the service of child support warrants for mothers and fathers who owe millions of dollars in unpaid child support.

"Through experience and expertise, we've brought this office into the 21st century with communications, computers and a modernized office," Fisher said. "I'm excited, if voters see to put me in for another four years, to take that to the next level."

Caldwell, 49, is executive director of the Community Policing Strategies Foundation, a nonprofit organization that he says offers grants and scholarships to local students and groups, and he runs a design-and-build firm.

Court records show that he has been charged three times with failing to perform a contract and with acting as a contractor without a license. One case was dismissed, and the other two were placed on the inactive docket, including one in which he was ordered to pay $43,000 in restitution, court records show.

"In this line of work, there are always technical issues and quite often different disagreements," Caldwell said. "I don't think any successful contractor gets through a career without them."

State records show that he is a licensed home improvement contractor.

On his Web site, he characterizes himself as "a volunteer with the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office on Victim Assistance programs."

Peggy Basham, director of the state's attorney's victim witness unit, said Caldwell helped out one day in 2001 and another in April at the annual memorial service for crime victims.

Caldwell frequently mentions juvenile justice as one of his top priorities. On his Web site, he says that he "introduced the juvenile drug court concept" to Baltimore County and, in an interview, said that he "worked directly with the Circuit Court and state's attorney's office in establishing juvenile drug court."

County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox, who oversees the county's drug courts, said, "It is accurate that he expressed an interest early on, but did he start the drug court here? No." She added that Caldwell did not serve on the committee that spent 18 months setting up the program.

Six candidates are seeking three seats on the Orphans' Court, which settles disputes dealing with inheritances and estates.

The Democrats are Colleen Cavanaugh, William R. Evans and Theresa A. Lawler, the only incumbent and the court's current chief judge. Running as Republicans are Robert Joseph Banks, John R. Danza and Gloria B. Murphy.

The judicial elections are essentially settled. Sitting judges Robert E. Cahill Jr., Judith C. Ensor, Timothy J. Martin and Mickey J. Norman were the top vote-getters in the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Register of Wills incumbent Grace G. Connolly, a Democrat, is unopposed.

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