S. Ann Brobst says her experience in the case of Kirk Bloodsworth,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
In her three decades as a prosecutor, S. Ann Brobst has gone after every kind of criminal - murderers, rapists, con artists, thieves - and, more often than not, she's thrown the book at them.
Now, in her judicial robes, she's aiming for more magnanimity.
"Most people are not evil," said Brobst, 56, who was sworn in Wednesday as a Baltimore County circuit judge. In many cases, she said, defendants charged with crimes "just messed up."
Others, of course, were accused of unspeakable acts, and Brobst's job as the county's lead prosecutor of felonies was, as she puts it, "to do justice" for both victims and perpetrators.
In a courtroom packed with colleagues, relatives and friends, Brobst was regaled with stories of her prosecutorial career and complimented on her tenacity and focus.
"I have the highest confidence that you will be an excellent judge," Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose wife, Katie, a city district judge, was in the audience, wrote in a letter that was read aloud. He praised Brobst's "exceptional legal career."
In keeping with tradition, Brobst was given her first black robe by the president of the Baltimore County Bar Association, and she put it on with the assistance of her 81-year-old father, Jim Brobst. After being sworn in, she ascended to the bench to a standing ovation and joined her 16 fellow Circuit Court judges at the end of the row.
Days before being sworn in, Brobst reflected on her career and how it has prepared her to be a judge.
Brobst may be best known for the case of Kirk N. Bloodsworth, whom she twice helped convict of rape and murder in the death of a 9-year-old girl in July 1984. After spending almost a decade in prison, part of it on death row, Bloodsworth was exonerated by a DNA test.
"I wish it had never happened," Brobst said of the ultimately erroneous prosecution. "I would never try a case as a prosecutor that I didn't believe the individual was guilty," said Brobst, who noted that the testimony against Bloodsworth in his two trials was "absolutely" damning.
Although FBI scientists had determined that there were no biological samples in the girl's clothing that might have linked Bloodsworth to the crime, he hired a new lawyer after his second conviction and had him ask Brobst whether the state would release its physical evidence in the case so that it could be tested independently for DNA, a nascent technology at the time.
"I was under tremendous pressure not to do that," Brobst recalled. "It was unheard of to actually release evidence in a criminal case to a defense attorney."
But she did, and the test results showed that not only was there biological evidence on the crime-scene materials but that it proved Bloodsworth was not the murderer. He was freed and ultimately was paid $300,000 in compensation.
Another decade passed before those same DNA results pointed to the real killer, and it was then that Brobst sought a meeting with Bloodsworth near his Eastern Shore home, conceded that she could "never get those years back for him," and apologized.
"He served years of his life in prison for a crime he didn't commit. And that's wrong, but it made me a better prosecutor then, and it's going to make me a better judge now because, of all people, I am mindful of how serious a business this is and how greatly it impacts lives," she said.
Scott D. Shellenberger, who became Brobst's boss as state's attorney three years ago, said she turned the evidence over to Bloodsworth's lawyer because she "knew how important it was that justice be served."
Even after Bloodsworth was exonerated, "there were many people who still wanted him to be prosecuted a third time, and Ann said no," Shellenberger recalled. "That took a lot of courage."
Among her colleagues in the legal profession, Brobst's standing seems to be unassailable.
"She has a sterling reputation among the Baltimore County bar, and is expected to make an immediate contribution to the court, given her significant courtroom experience," Henry E. Dugan Jr., a partner at Dugan, Babij & Tolley in Timonium, wrote in an e-mail.
"She is definitely a first-rate addition," said Dugan, who on Tuesday was chosen as president-elect of the Maryland State Bar Association for a year's term beginning in June 2011.
Edward J. Gilliss, a former president of the same organization, said Brobst's "skill set" from so many years as a prosecutor means she will be effective on the bench.