New Baltimore state's attorney prepares to take over

Bernstein plans to meet with staff this week

November 02, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

While many others on the ballot battled butterflies Tuesday, political newcomer Gregg Bernstein — the shoo-in candidate for Baltimore state's attorney — was relatively relaxed.

His fight was over after the September primary, when he bested the city's longtime prosecutor, Patricia C. Jessamy, to win the Democratic nomination by a margin of just under 1,200 votes. He was unopposed in the general election.

"From an anxiety-level standpoint, it's certainly a lot … calmer today," Bernstein, 55, said on the morning of Election Day.

He was planning a quiet dinner out Tuesday night to celebrate with his wife, Sheryl Goldstein, who recently returned to her job directing the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice after taking a leave of absence during the campaign. But that was about it for Bernstein in terms of Election Day plans.

His work starts in earnest today.

With the election over, Bernstein can now officially begin taking the reins from Jessamy, who has worked in the office since 1985 and been the city's top prosecutor since 1995.

He ran an aggressive, tough-on-crime campaign that challenged Jessamy's long-held focus on prevention programs before prosecution. The message resonated with residents fed up with city violence; they gave Bernstein 49 percent of the vote to Jessamy's 47 percent.

Jessamy, 62, conceded three days after the tight Sept. 14 primary and promised to pave the way for a smooth transition. She also asked Bernstein to limit his role until now.

Bernstein has spent the past several weeks winding down his private practice as a defense attorney, which is how he has spent most of his legal career, and meeting with deputies and division chiefs from the state's attorney's office, to better understand and evaluate their operations.

"I'm still on the outside looking in," Bernstein said Tuesday.

That changes this week. Bernstein plans to meet with the office of 400 employees, roughly half of them prosecutors, and to examine financial information that has been unavailable until now, in preparation for his January inauguration.

He won't go so far as to say the office needs a complete overhaul — what it needs, he says, is a "new organizational structure" designed to "more effectively target and convict violent repeat offenders."

That means some people will lose their jobs, many others won't and everyone will be subject to professional training, Bernstein said. Employees will finally get voice mail on their phones and BlackBerries in their pockets, he added.

"There are a lot of really good people in the state's attorney's office, both lawyers and nonlawyers, who are dedicated public servants looking for leadership to help them do a better job," he said.

"There's a lot of work ahead," he said. "I think that we are going to need to roll up our sleeves and drill down deep into the operations of the office in order to find ways to make it more effective."

Added Bernstein, "My goal is to hit the ground running."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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