Gregg Bernstein, Baltimore's new top prosecutor, has named two members of his leadership team as he prepares to take office as city state's attorney Jan. 3.
Bernstein told The Baltimore Sun that he has tapped federal prosecutor George Hazel and Elizabeth Embry, who most recently served as acting director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. In a news release issued this morning, Bernstein did not name the positions they will hold, but said both have "the background and experience necessary" to help him make Baltimore safer.
Bernstein, who narrowly unseated longtime incumbent Patricia C. Jessamy, has declined to say whether he is replacing members of her staff — even though the office's spokeswoman, Margaret T. Burns, says she will lose her job.
"To the extent that you're asking me questions about conversations or discussions I may or may not have had with current employees of the state's attorney's office, I just do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment publicly about any issues related to that," he said in an interview.
Burns, a high-profile spokeswoman for Jessamy's office, said she will not be retained by his administration.
"He informed me that I will not have a position in his new administration on January 3," Burns said in an e-mail. "My only comment would be that it has been a privilege and pleasure to serve as the Director of Communications and Governmental Affairs for State's Attorney Jessamy."
Bernstein gave similar news to Joseph Sviatko, who works under Burns as a spokesman.
"I offered and wanted to stay because I think I have a lot to offer the office but ultimately it isn't my decision and there's no hard feelings," Sviatko said by e-mail. "I wish him and the hard-working staff I called co-workers the last eight years all the best."
Bernstein defeated Jessamy by a margin of 49 percent to 47 percent in September's Democratic primary election, winning by fewer than 1,200 votes. He ran an aggressive, tough-on-crime campaign that challenged Jessamy's long-held focus on prevention programs before prosecution.
He was unopposed in the November general election.
Last month Bernstein said the office needed a "new organizational structure" designed to "more effectively target and convict violent repeat offenders." But he offered no details.
Embry and Hazel both issued statements this morning.
Hazel said, "I have spent the majority of my career developing strategies and trying cases in order to get violent offenders off our streets, and I look forward to applying my skills and experience as part of Mr. Bernstein's leadership team."
Embry said, "I am pleased to have been asked to be part of Mr. Bernstein's leadership team, and I am looking forward to working with him and everyone in the State's Attorney's Office along with all our criminal justice partners to make Baltimore safer."
According to a news release issued by Bernstein, Embry was an assistant state's attorney before joining the city Law Department in 2008 as an assistant city solicitor.
Earlier this year she went to work for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation before going to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. She ran that office temporarily while director Sheryl Goldstein, Bernstein's wife, took a leave of absence to help with his campaign.
Hazel prosecuted violent felony cases for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington before moving to the Baltimore U.S. attorney's office in 2008. His most high-profile trial was the prosecution of Johnny Butler, who was sentenced to life in prison for a drug-related murder, Bernstein's release said.
Bernstein confirmed that Hazel is not a member of the Maryland bar. While that is not a requirement to practice in federal court, it is required to practice law in state court. That means Hazel will have to pass the state bar exam, and his first chance to take the test will be in February. (He is an active member of the District of Columbia bar.)
Bernstein said the situation would not affect Hazel's ability to do his new job. "I do not believe it will have any impact on the role he will play within the state's attorney's office as part of my team, pending him sitting for and becoming a member of the Maryland bar," he said.