Truancy is first lady's topic

Governor's wife mentions her concern about issue raised regularly in her city District Court room

State Of The State

February 01, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

As her husband was laying out his agenda yesterday in the State of the State address, Baltimore District Court Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley - Maryland's new first lady - threw out a pet project of her own: truancy.

"It tugs at your heart when you see kids, who you know [that] 10 years after they drop out of school, they're going to be in your courtroom," O'Malley, 44, said during a wide-ranging interview in a sitting room in the governor's mansion. "They're going to be addicted to drugs or selling drugs or handguns. It's every single day in court, at mitigation I'll say, `How far did your client go to school?' It's 10th grade, 11th grade. It's very rare that you get somebody that's finished high school."

O'Malley, appointed to the bench in 2001 by former Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, is no stranger to balancing the demands of a busy career with her husband's political responsibilities as Baltimore mayor and now governor. Restricted by court ethics laws from engaging in "partisan political activity," O'Malley plans to carve out first lady responsibilities that dovetail with her judicial work. Having toiled in truancy court and talked to families about why their children are skipping school and the consequences of life on the street, she says she believes she can - in her public role - draw awareness to the issue.

"Where do you think this is going to lead you?" she said she tells young people who don't show up for school. "There are two things that are going to happen to you if you continue to do what you're doing: You will get caught, you will get arrested. So you're either going to be in jail or you're going to be dead. Those are your options."

O'Malley, a mother of four and the daughter of former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., set the record straight yesterday as well about what she won't do as first lady. She isn't, for example, interested in advising Gov. Martin O'Malley on judicial appointments.

"I don't need that power trip," she said. "I wasn't elected governor. There's a whole process to that."

She's also not keen on being a policy adviser to the governor.

"There really aren't any conflicts," she said. "It would be if I hadn't been appointed a judge and he appointed me, that would've been a problem. I stay away from any civil cases involving the state of Maryland that involve big money judgments, because I would just feel uncomfortable."

Meanwhile, political activities, from raising money to appearing at party events, are strictly forbidden by court ethics laws.

"I didn't do any campaign events for him or any fundraisers," she said, looking back to the 2006 gubernatorial contest. "I didn't do any of that because I couldn't. The kids did, though, and they were great. I sent my little daughters out and William, and they were fine and probably did much better than I could. And they enjoyed it."

There are many other visible community activities, however, that O'Malley has enjoyed and will continue to attend, from the Race for the Cure to the Columbus Day parade to Fourth of July festivities. O'Malley plans to be an active and visible first lady.

O'Malley laughed when asked about speculation that she might be interested in Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's job. No, she has her hands full these days getting the children to school in Baltimore and herself to work there while helping the family adjust to life in Annapolis.

"I'm not running for city state's attorney," she said. "I've got four kids, and what in the world would I be doing trying to fix that dysfunctional place?"

Most importantly, like any working mother whose husband also has a full-time job, the children are the couple's priority, she said. Still, she has one personal agenda item in mind: The judge nodded emphatically when asked if she would redecorate parts of the family's residence in the upper floors of the governor's mansion.

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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