Bernstein questionnaire

August 30, 2010

The Sun asked the candidates for Baltimore state's attorney to complete a questionnaire as part of our endorsement process. The questions were derived from suggestions made by readers. After reading the responses, please let us know which candidate you support and why, either on the editorial board's blog, Second Opinion, or by sending an e-mail to talkback@baltimoresun.com. A selection of readers' comments will appear alongside our endorsement.

Democrat Gregg Bernstein's responses to The Sun's questionnaire:

1. Summarize your education and professional experience. How does your background fit the current needs of the state's attorney's office?

As a former federal prosecutor and a partner in a major law firm, I have the trial and management experience needed to make Baltimore a safer city. I have nearly 30 years of trial experience and have been recognized as one of the top trial lawyers in Maryland. I served as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore's U.S. Attorney's Office where I investigated and successfully prosecuted a wide range of violent crimes, working closely with law enforcement to build strong cases and convict violent offenders. Through this experience, I know first-hand how important it is for police and prosecutors to work together to get violent criminals off our streets. Currently, I am a partner in the Baltimore office of a national law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. I am a life-long resident of Baltimore and a graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Maryland Law School.

The Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office is akin to a large law firm and should be run as such by a seasoned trial lawyer. As a former federal prosecutor, a founding partner of my own law firm, and now a partner at a major law firm, I have the trial and management experience needed to run the State's Attorney's office and make Baltimore safer. I can use this experience to improve technology in the office and provide much-needed training to the assistant state's attorneys so that they can make more effective presentations in court, and as a result, improve the office's conviction rates, particularly for violent crime.

2. What additional efforts can the state's attorney's office undertake to protect witnesses who feel threatened?

It is critical to protect victims and witnesses who feel threatened. The state's attorney's office must step up its efforts to protect witnesses. As state's attorney, I will work with law enforcement to identify and offer protection proactively to victims and witnesses at high risk of intimidation. I will not wait for witnesses to ask for protection but will do everything I can to ensure that witnesses at high risk are offered meaningful protection. I will coordinate witness protection with my counterpart prosecutors in Maryland's other jurisdictions in order to set up safe houses in other cities and counties, and I will explore opportunities to provide permanent housing for witnesses and their families, if necessary.

In addition, I will develop relationships with federal law enforcement agencies to coordinate witness protection in particularly dangerous or extraordinary instances. I also will provide financial assistance to witnesses who have the opportunity to relocate with relatives in other cities and states. To implement this plan, I will allocate existing witness protection resources more strategically and aggressively pursue federal grant money.

3. What strategies can the office employ to move cases forward when witnesses or victims are reluctant to testify?

I would adopt pro-prosecution policies. A pro-prosecution policy makes clear to the perpetrator that the prosecutor, not the victim, is responsible for decisions regarding criminal prosecution. While victim input is necessary and important, a prosecutor must be the one who decides whether to prosecute a case. Successful prosecutions are based on material evidence. Therefore, it is critical that prosecutors work closely with police to identify and obtain evidence in cases where victims are reluctant to testify. By relying primarily on the evidence collected by police rather than a victim's testimony, the prosecutor may be able to reduce the risk of retaliation by the perpetrator against the victim — and increase the likelihood of successful prosecution.

In particular, I will adopt policies and strategies that preserve witnesses' testimony through recorded statements and grand jury testimony. I also will reduce the number of postponements in serious cases where witnesses or victims may be reluctant to testify in order to ensure their appearance at trial. Finally, as discussed above, I will increase the state's attorney's office's commitment and efforts to provide protection for witnesses and victims who are intimidated.

4. What should the relationship between the state's attorney's office and police department be like?

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