Builder details his path to trial

April 03, 2008|By DAN RODRICKS

Walter Abbott, the Parkville contractor accused of threatening Gov. Martin O'Malley, claims illegal aliens "ruined my life" because their presence in the Baltimore-area labor force over the last two decades kept him from getting drywall work. Abbott, on home detention awaiting trial, told me he's received phone calls of support from people who share his views -- of immigrants and/or O'Malley -- and hail him a hero.

Abbott attributes to "illegals" most of his financial problems of the last two decades. Most conservatives I know despise that kind of blame-someone-else victim mentality. That the anti-O'Malley crowd would support this guy seems odd.

Still, I asked Abbott why, if he knew of illegal immigrants in Baltimore County, he had not reported them to the federales. That would probably have been more effective than sending O'Malley a threatening e-mail.

Abbott said he had "tried to call" the Immigration and Naturalization Service but had been frustrated by the INS' automated switchboard. "There were too many buttons to push," he said. "How to get a green card, how to get a work permit -- everything except how to get them out of here."

Shure nostalgia

Rest in peace, Marshall Shure. The long-time city prosecutor died last week, and lots of memories went with him -- from my first visits to the old Southern District police station and District Court on Ostend Street, to an occasional sandwich together in the Cross Street Market.

In the Southern, Shure was a 6-foot-6 crane with the eyes of a hawk; he could spot a liar a mile away, though most defendants only stood a few feet to his left. Shure, whose keen senses did not include one for fashion, wore wrinkled suits and some remarkable combinations of jackets and pants. He prosecuted thousands of cases from an old leatherette bar stool Southern District cops confiscated from a local tavern.

At Cross Street Market, Shure encountered numerous defendants while waiting for a sandwich, and they'd get chatty with him, as if he were an old schoolteacher they knew from afternoon detention. "Hey, Mr. Marshall!" they'd cheer.

Some had cases pending and felt free to ask Shure what they should expect on their court date. One guy had received two citations for drinking on the street.

"Go inside your house and drink," Shure told him.

"But I like to party with my friends," the guy answered.

"Well, party all you want, but if you keep getting citations, you're going to wear out your welcome in court, and some day you're not going to get off with five hours of community service. Someone's going to send you to jail for 30 days!"

As an assistant state's attorney, Marshall Shure found a public-service groove and stayed in it for 31 years. He applied for a judgeship once but didn't get it. There was a downside to Shure's long run: He would see the same faces over and over again, a daily reminder of the dysfunction, ignorance and persistent poverty among the drug addicted.

His career as a District Court prosecutor paralleled Baltimore's multi-generational addiction to heroin, and the majority of the cases he prosecuted were connected to drugs or alcohol. "That's the worst part -- when I realize that the cycle hasn't been broken for so many people," Shure said a few years ago, when he transferred out of the Southern to a new assignment. "I was starting to see the children of people I prosecuted 20 years ago."

`New asylums'

Here's the latest from the Justice Policy Institute's ongoing research into the scope and cost of incarceration in America: Local jails now warehouse more people who have not been found guilty of any crime for longer periods of time than ever before.

"People arrested today," a new JPI report said this week, "are much more likely to serve jail time before trial than they would have been 20 years ago, even though crime rates are nearly at the lowest levels in 30 years." Filled with drug addicts and the homeless, local jails have become the "new asylums," with six out of 10 people in jail living with a mental illness.

"In 2004, local governments spent a staggering $97 billion on criminal justice, including police, the courts and jails," the report said. "Over $19 billion of county money went to financing jails alone. During the same time period, local governments spent just $8.7 billion on libraries and only $28 billion on higher education."

Fees overstated

In Sunday's column, I overstated lobbying fees paid by the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to the Artemis Group. The state ethics commission requires lobbyists to report any fundraising activity to which members of the General Assembly are invited.

Much of the large sum I mentioned -- nearly $1 million over a three-year period -- reflected ticket sales from the zoo's annual fundraiser, Zoomerang. According to Barbara Hoffman, former state senator and Artemis principal, the ethics commission lists all Zoomerang proceeds in its annual reports, giving the appearance that the zoo had paid Artemis $964,162 between 2004 and 2006. In fact, Artemis has been getting $5,000 a month from the zoo as its lobbyist.

King's wisdom

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. with his own words: "Life's most urgent and persistent question is, `What are you doing for others?'"

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Thursday and Sunday. He hosts "Midday," each Monday through Thursday, noon to 2 p.m., on 88.1 WYPR, and the Random Rodricks blog at baltimoresun.com.

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