Baltimore state's attorney threatens legal action over budget

Patricia Jessamy says mayor's proposal is unconstitutional

May 12, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said she will file for an injunction against the mayor and City Council if an "unconstitutional" budget recommendation is not corrected.

"If you fail to revise your recommendation to the [Board of Estimates] I shall have no choice but to pursue a legal remedy," Jessamy wrote in a letter mailed last week to city Finance Director Edward J. Gallagher and copied to Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff.

At issue is the elimination of 14 outreach positions, which act as liaisons between District Court and the community, from the city prosecutor's office. They were cut from the proposed budget in a summary released in March, much to Jessamy's chagrin. She says the mayor's office can't tell her, as an independently elected official, how to spend her funds.

"I have been state's attorney since 1995, and I have never had a mayor do this," Jessamy said in an interview Wednesday. She will decide within a week whether to ask for an injunction preventing implementation of the budget.

The mayor's spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty, acknowledged Wednesday that Jessamy's office is independent from the mayor's, though he declined to address the contents of Jessamy's letter, which he had not seen. He said the mayor continues "conversations with Ms. Jessamy" and is confident that a resolution will be reached, with "the understanding that every agency" will take a hit this year.

O'Doherty added that the budget bill does not contain language about which positions should be cut. That was only in the summary, which is not a legal document, he said.

The exchange highlights just how contentious this year's budget battle has been. With just a few weeks left before a budget is implemented July 1, agencies are scrambling for every penny, and critics are decrying what they see as an incomplete proposal by the mayor.

Jessamy sent Rawlings-Blake a letter in March outlining $2.3 million worth of measures she has taken to reduce her agency's spending, including maintaining a hiring freeze and requiring staff to take furlough days. But she was told that the furloughs don't count toward her bottom line, adding to her frustration.

"I'm in dire straits right now," she said in a telephone interview. "I have a constitutional responsibility to manage my agency, and defendants have a right to speedy trial. It's really getting to be a problem."

Jessamy said she has now reduced spending by $2.6 million and her office has 32 vacant positions. But still, her budget has dropped from $26,859,385 in fiscal year 2010 to a recommended $25,740,612 for the coming year.

"I'm way beyond the bottom line that they gave me," she said. "We are in desperate need, and it is no longer a laughing matter. It's very serious."

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