The wrong move

January 04, 2007

As state offices go, the criminal appeals division of the Maryland attorney general's office is small potatoes. Its 17 lawyers are responsible for handling appeals of criminal cases to the state appellate and federal courts and advising local law enforcement on legal matters. As it happens, the office is located in Baltimore. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler wants to move it to the Washington suburbs, and therein lies the problem.

Why should this particular function be located in Montgomery or Prince George's counties? Mr. Gansler has yet to offer a compelling reason. He says it's because people living in those populous counties have no access to the attorney general's office now and talented lawyers practicing in the D.C. suburbs might want to work for the office - if they didn't have to commute all the way to Baltimore.

But criminal appeals matters aren't exactly a walk-in business. Mostly, they're about reading transcripts and writing briefs. Relocating the office to Annapolis, perhaps, to be nearer the appellate courts - that would have made some sense. One potential side benefit of a move to Montgomery or Prince George's would be to include a regional consumer protection office for the D.C. suburbs (something Hagerstown and Salisbury have now). It's a worthy idea, but there's no need to attach it to the criminal appeals staff.

Mr. Gansler is known for his political aspirations, and moving a portion of his staff to Montgomery or Prince George's might win him some votes there if he should run for higher office, but it's hard to see how it would accomplish much else. It's reminiscent of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s attempt to move the state Department of Planning to Prince George's last year. Mr. Ehrlich's idea was ultimately rejected; Mr. Gansler's should be, too.

One would hope that the newly installed attorney general, perhaps after a few days of getting to know Baltimore, will find more worthy projects to pursue than removing jobs from a city burdened with high unemployment.

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