And the Chutzpah Award goes to ...

December 30, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

The date of Dec. 30, 2006 on the calendar indicates it must be time for my annual Chutzpah Awards. Usually, I honor 10 dubious winners. But in 2006, three were filled with such audacity that they took chutzpah to new limits. There is no room for the seven other spots.

Here are the honorees:

Third place: Martin O'Malley, mayor of Baltimore and governor-elect of Maryland. No, not because he took a police department that was never Bill of Rights-friendly and made it even less so. It's not even for promoting Baltimore's 60 percent graduation rate as an achievement during his gubernatorial campaign.

In those parts of America where public officials still have a sense of shame - in short, anywhere outside of Baltimore's city limits - a 60 percent graduation rate would be a disgrace. But O'Malley in essence ran on a record of failure, and won. I can't fault the guy for that.

No, O'Malley makes this year's list for his cynical support of an $83,000 raise for Baltimore's state's attorney. We know he didn't do it out of love for our current state's attorney, Patricia C. Jessamy. So it must have been for other reasons. When, exactly, will O'Malley's wife, current District Court Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, announce her candidacy for the state's attorney's office?

And when was the precise moment that a sense of shame deserted our mayor?

Second place: U.S. Department of Justice officials here in Baltimore, whose actions resulted in outrageously exorbitant sentences for former Baltimore detectives William King and Antonio Murray.

This is done with apologies to Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, who is as able a prosecutor as they come. He has also put away many dangerous street thugs in Baltimore. But 315 years for King and more than 100 for Murray? For - and this is how U.S. attorneys put it in court - using their authority as detectives "as a vehicle to rob, to rob people on the streets of drugs."

Let's clarify. The "people on the streets" with drugs were addicts and/or dealers. Murray and King said they were doing what they were trained to do: taking drugs and money from Drug Dealer A and giving them to Drug Dealer B as a reward for being a confidential informant. I posed the question - "The downside of that arrangement is what, exactly?" - but I'm clearly in the minority on that one.

But here's where the chutzpah comes in: The FBI, which is a part of the Department of Justice, has a history of - to put it mildly - using the worst of the criminal element as informants. Some FBI informants committed notorious crimes while FBI informants.

Warren Grace, an informant testifying in a federal drug trial, undid his home monitoring device in October 2002 and was stopped by Baltimore police driving a vehicle with a considerable amount of heroin in it. (Grace denied the heroin was his.) Grace was the star witness in a federal drug case prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna, who later died under still-mysterious circumstances.

Kenneth Ravenell, a Baltimore attorney who was a defense lawyer in that case, said it went south and ended in a plea bargain after he and another defense lawyer brought Grace's escape from home monitoring and "riding dirty" to light. If Department of Justice officials figure nailing King and Murray with outrageous sentences wipes away the egg that Grace so carelessly smeared on their faces, they are sadly mistaken.

Here's a suggestion for Maryland U.S. attorneys and FBI agents: Find out who killed Luna and stole $36,000 from the evidence room of federal offices.

First place: Judges on the Maryland Court of Appeals, who in August all but granted female drug addicts the right to become pregnant and pass their addiction on their babies. (The judges ruled on a Talbot County case in which two women were convicted of reckless endangerment when their babies tested positively for cocaine after they were born.)

In their unanimous ruling, the judges said convicting pregnant women who use illegal drugs of child endangerment might lead to convicting for the same offense women who smoke, ride horses, fail to exercise, don't eat right or who are aware that they can pass on a genetic disorder to their babies.

To paraphrase John Kennedy Toole, the late author of the superb A Confederacy of Dunces, how do we get through to people with minds like the ones resting in the heads of our Court of Appeals judges?

Do you really need a law degree to see the difference between ingesting cocaine while pregnant - defined by law as a controlled dangerous substance - and smoking tobacco? Or riding horses? Or failing to exercise? Or not eating right or having a genetic disorder?

Anyone notice a difference between ingesting cocaine and those other things? Take your time in answering now, because you might have to pass this information on to the Court of Appeals judges, none of whom seems to make the distinction.

Yeah, the first one is illegal. The others aren't. Since when is being irresponsible enough to ingest dangerous drugs and give birth to addicted children protected activity?

Why, since Americans developed a mania for rights and kicked responsibility to the curb, that's when. Our Court of Appeals judges embraced that revolting development, and thus are deserving winners of the 2006 Chutzpah Awards.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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