DNR concludes Towson “Treegate” tree removal not in violation of forest conservation laws.

Guest commentary by David A. Plymyer

In a decision that is as stunning as it is disappointing, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) concluded that Baltimore County did not violate state or county forest conservation laws when the County removed approximately 30 mature trees, including six “specimen” trees, from county-owned property at 800 York Road in Towson on April 1, 2017.  The removal of the trees by the Kamenetz administration defied the intent of the Baltimore County Council expressed in Resolution No. 113-16 that the trees be preserved.  The removal of the trees became known as “Treegate.”

In a letter to me dated June 19th, DNR Secretary Mark Belton explained that his agency accepted the explanation by the County that removal of the trees was justified as part of a “capital improvement project” of the County.  That is unmitigated nonsense.

The trees were cleared for the express purpose of preparing the site for development by CVP by circumventing both Resolution No. 113-16 and the requirement under forest conservation law that any development of land adhere to strict rules before wooded areas are disturbed and specimen trees are cut down.  Specimen trees are trees with diameters of at least 30 inches measured at 4 ½ feet above the ground.

The DNR began its investigation after I sent a complaint to the agency on November 14, 2017.  All the information described below was in the complaint or provided by supplement when it became available.

There were no County capital improvements planned for the property, which at the time was under a contract of sale to Caves Valley Partners LLC (CVP) for purposes of a development known as Towson Station.  The County did not intend to make its own improvements to the property; it intended to sell the property, and the contract purchaser wanted the trees gone.

Secretary Belton did not give me the Baltimore County budgetary name or number for the capital project from which the money came to cut down the trees. That is because there was no capital project.  The funds to remove the trees came from general operating funds; specifically, the funds used to pay the tree-cutting contractor were appropriated for use by the Property Management Division of the Baltimore County Office of Budget and Finance in its Grounds Maintenance Program.

The purpose of Grounds Maintenance Program is “to provide grounds maintenance for all County facilities to the citizens of Baltimore County so that they can participate in leisure activities in recreation facilities in a safe and clean environment.”  The services provided by the program are listed in the County budget as “including grass maintenance, ball diamond grooming, turf management, and general landscaping.” Removing thirty trees to prepare a site for private development is not “general landscaping” and it is not “maintenance.”

In an appearance before the County Council several days after the trees were cut down, County Administrative Officer Fred Homan admitted that he ordered the trees removed to “accelerate the settlement on the property.”  He offered his opinion that Resolution No. 113-16 applied only to the contract purchaser, not to the County itself.

Let’s be clear:  The trees were not cut down as part of a capital improvement project.  Even if the exemption did apply that allows the County to remove trees as part of a capital improvement project, however, County law requires the County to file a “project plan” justifying any “tree cutting” for a project that is on an area of land 40,000 square feet or greater that is not otherwise subject to normal development review and forest conservation act compliance.

The Towson Station site is about 200,000 square feet.  Don’t bother looking for a “project plan” justifying the tree removal.  There is none.

The retention of the trees described in Resolution No. 113-16 was a sticking point with CVP.  As a contract purchaser, CVP was permitted to proceed through the development review process before taking title to the property.  CVP’s own consultant acknowledged that the development plan proposed by CVP was subject to forest conservation laws.

In May 2016, the consulted applied on behalf of CVP for a Forest Conservation Special Variance under those laws to allow removal of the six specimen trees.  The consultant claimed that retention of the six specimen trees was incompatible with CVP’s project design.

The application for the variance was withdrawn because of the pressure from community groups who wanted the trees retained.  That pressure resulted in Resolution No. 113-16.  The removal of the trees made the variance moot.

If DNR was looking for a smoking gun, one was provided by Ann Costantino in a story published in the Baltimore Post.  She found an email exchange that took place in January 2017 between Donna Morrison, an assistant to Mr. Homan, and Robert Hoffman, the lawyer for CVP.  The reference to “Mudd” is to Christopher Mudd, an attorney who worked with Mr. Hoffman.

Ms. Morrison:  “You were going to send Fred the site plan with the trees that needed to be removed.  Donna.”

Mr. Hoffman:  “Hi Donna. Yep and got your phone message.  Mudd is on it!”

The 30 trees, including the six specimen trees, were removed by the County because CVP wanted them removed to prepare the site for development.  If Mr. Mudd did what Mr. Hoffman told Mr. Homan’s assistant he was going to do, then a representative of CVP instructed Mr. Homan exactly which trees to cut down.

“Treegate” had nothing to do with a County capital improvement project.  It had everything to do with making the property more palatable to the contract purchaser who intended to develop the property, even though the County was under no contractual duty to do so.  Shame on DNR for suggesting otherwise.

– David A. Plymyer

David A. Plymyer retired as the County Attorney for Anne Arundel County in 2014. He also served five years as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County. He now writes on matters of law and local government from his home in Catonsville, Maryland. His email address is dplymyer@comcast.net, and his website is at https://davidplymyer.com/.

[Published as guest commentary by The Baltimore Post on June 20, 2018 but not posted to my blog until October 25, 2018.  The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]

Supporters of Johnny O and his commendable ideas for good government should vote for Jim Brochin on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Democratic voters in Baltimore County will decide on their nominee to be the next Baltimore County Executive. Even though there are two worthy candidates opposing Vicki Almond, the stakes are far too high to take any chances on the outcome of the election by voting for Johnny Olszewski, Jr.

At this point, only Jim Brochin can stop Vicki Almond from becoming the next County Executive and continuing what the Baltimore Sun described as “politics as usual” in the county.  Unfortunately, a vote for Johnny O falls into the trap set for Baltimore County voters by the rich, powerful men who benefit from the pay-to-play culture in the county and who have selected Ms. Almond as the heir-apparent to the late Kevin Kamenetz as the titular head of the pro-developer, Democratic machine.

A poll done by the University of Baltimore and the Sun several weeks ago showed Mr. Brochin ahead of Ms. Almond, with 30% of the vote to her 22%, with Mr. Olszewski trailing well behind at 14%. I am sure that Mr. Olszewski’s campaign knows that he can’t close that deficit quickly enough to win the primary election, no matter what happens. It is down to Brochin vs. Almond.

Release of the poll showing Mr. Brochin in the lead unleashed one of the ugliest episodes in the history of Baltimore County politics, and that is saying something. I addressed the sudden torrent of attack ads against Mr. Brochin financed by Ms. Almond’s wealthy and influential backers in a prior post, and it was further chronicled by Mark Reutter in a must-read story in the Baltimore Brew.

The goal of the oligarchy consisting of developers and their lawyers (and orchestrated by former County Executive Jim Smith) that has run Baltimore County for decades was to cut into Mr. Brochin’s lead over Ms. Almond by tearing down Mr. Brochin with misrepresentations and outright lies. Attack ads are much more effective if only a single candidate is targeted, and Ms. Almond’s supporters knew that Mr. Olszewski was too far behind to threaten their candidate.

A vote shifted from Mr. Brochin to Ms. Almond is a bonus for the developers and their lawyers. A vote shifted from Mr. Brochin to Mr. Olszewski serves this cynical strategy just as well. Don’t fall for the trap.

It is harder for someone without 31 years of experience inside a county government, as I have, to understand the impact of the pay-to-play culture on Baltimore County. The effect is insidious and goes far beyond the obvious consequences like the $43 million bailout of the Towson Row developers.

The domination of these special interests affects fundamental decisions on land use and environmental policy, and even decisions such as which schools to replace; in a developer-dominated county you can be sure that resources will go to where the development opportunities are greatest, not necessarily to where resources are most needed. It should not surprise anyone that in a county controlled by the rich and powerful, the rich tend to get richer and the poor poorer.

The control exercised by builders and developers has shaped the county’s revenue policies by placing the burden of building the infrastructure necessary to support new development on ordinary taxpayers rather than on the builders and developers. The lack of a development excise tax or impact fee in the county over the past two decades is the single greatest reason that Baltimore County faces a financial crisis in the coming years, a crisis admitted by its own Spending Affordability Committee. It also is a reason that there has been insufficient money to maintain the county’s schools and roads, because general operating funds have been diverted to pay the costs of supporting massive new developments such as Towson Row.

I admire Johnny O’s support of affordable housing in the county and his willingness to study the need for a development excise tax or impact fee. Those are visionary ideas that must be discussed. But neither of those ideas are going to be realized if Ms. Almond wins and the pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County continues.

As things have panned out in this election, only Jim Brochin can pry Baltimore County out of the hands of the Baltimore County oligarchs. I believe that Baltimore County Democrats should consider that fact when they vote on Tuesday.

It goes against my grain to suggest that voters should vote for anyone other than the candidate that they consider most qualified.  But this a fight for the heart and soul of  Baltimore County, which is a point with which I believe Johnny O would agree.  In my opinion, citizens cannot afford to lose the fight by voting for a candidate who in all probability cannot win the election.

The campaign on behalf of Vicki Almond: A study in mediocrity and mendacity.

The Baltimore Sun posted a letter to the editor from Scott Hall that is well worth reading. Mr. Hall built the case against Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s candidacy for Baltimore County Executive thoughtfully and methodically. The letter was hard-hitting, but fair and accurate. My hat is off to Mr. Hall for having the guts to write it.

Ms. Almond has no significant business or professional experience – or education or training – to shape our expectations of how she might approach the job of county executive. Experience as a community or education activist may be adequate preparation for membership on the County Council, but it has little bearing on the skills necessary to be a successful county executive of a major county.

Because of her thin resume, we must judge Ms. Almond’s candidacy on her performance on the county council. As detailed by Mr. Hall, Ms. Almond’s record is largely one of voting in lock-step with the interests of builders and developers in the county. She became increasingly loyal to those interests as the 2018 election approached, undoubtedly because she wanted to secure the support of the oligarchy for her campaign to be county executive.

Indeed, Ms. Almond secured the support of the oligarchs in a very, very big way. Another must-read piece is the story written by Mark Reutter for the Baltimore Brew. Do you believe that the movers and shakers would have gone all in for Ms. Almond like they have with loads of money, and shameless and dishonest attack ads, if they weren’t confident that she would remain loyal to their interests? Do you think that they expect nothing in return?

There are two highly qualified candidates running against Ms. Almond in the primary that offer Democratic voters responsible options. Johnny Olszewski, Jr. is the more “progressive” candidate with his strong advocacy of the HOME Act and affordable housing, and his willingness to consider the imposition of development impact fees.

State Senator Jim Brochin is more of a centrist and has made dismantling the pay-to-play culture in county government the centerpiece of his campaign. According to a poll taken several weeks ago, he is the clear front-runner in the race – and therefore the primary target for the attack ads paid for by Ms. Almond’s rich and powerful friends.

Even Ms. Almond’s campaign strategy has been insulting to the intelligence of Baltimore County voters. As described by the Sun in its endorsement of Mr. Olszewski, Ms. Almond “hasn’t articulated much sense of what’s broken much less how to fix it” during her campaign. The editorial board added that “her insistence, for example, that developers don’t wield outsize influence over county government is mind-boggling.” Mind-boggling and ominous.

In other words, Ms. Almond has said little or nothing of substance during her campaign and is relying on the attack ads financed by her sponsors to prevail over her opponents. How uplifting. The conclusion is inescapable that wealthy developers and their lawyers are supporting such a mediocre candidate because they believe that she would make the perfect pawn. Based on her track record as described by Mr. Hall, they probably are right.

And now for the mendacity. Ms. Almond and her developer buddies are targeting Mr. Brochin for his record on gun control and his past (and I emphasize past) support from the NRA. Not only do the ads deliberately misrepresent Mr. Brochin’s current position on gun control, they concern an issue in which a county executive plays no meaningful role.
Meaningful gun control is done at the state and federal level, not the local level.

Effective gun control involves controls at the points of manufacture, sale or other distribution, and licenses to purchase or possess firearms, matters over which a county has no legislative authority.  Ms. Almond, if you want to do something meaningful about gun control, run for the General Assembly, not for County Executive.

Democrats have a clear choice on Tuesday. There are two qualified candidates who have pledged to move Baltimore County into the sunlight and toward a governing culture in which the needs of communities and ordinary citizens are given more consideration than the special interests that have dominated Baltimore County for decades and that have mortgaged the county’s future to serve themselves.

Then there is Vicki Almond, who believes that the status quo is fine and unapologetically represents what the Sun described as “politics as usual” in Baltimore County. We are all counting on the good judgment and common sense of Baltimore County voters to make the right decision.

Why not just go ahead and make Vicki Almond an Honorary Partner of Caves Valley Partners?

Another day, and another glossy, oversized mailer showed up in my mailbox attacking State Senator Jim Brochin, a Democratic candidate for Baltimore County Executive. According to the polls, Mr. Brochin is the candidate most likely to defeat County Councilwoman Vicki Almond in the primary election. Ms. Almond is the standard bearer for the Baltimore County Democratic machine that has been faithfully serving the interests of builders and developers in the county for many years.

This latest attack ad was, like the first attack ad that I received, paid for by the “Baltimore County Victory Slate” (BCVS) controlled by former County Executive Jim Smith. The BCVS was the subject of a post that I wrote on Saturday.

The good news is that the BCVS is just about tapped out. The bad news is that developers, led by Caves Valley Partners, have turned to another pot of money for promoting Ms. Almond and for attacking Mr. Brochin and Johnny Olszewski, Jr., the other leading contender for the Democratic nomination.

Kris Henry reported in today’s Towson Flyer that in a single day last week a super PAC (political action committee) known as “Baltimore County Votes” received $30,100.  [“Developers pour money into Almond super PAC, Almond ally attacks Brochin on guns,” June 18, 2018.]  According to a later report in the Baltimore Sun, various entities related to Caves Valley Partners, including affiliates and executives, gave a combined $17,500 to the PAC last Thursday.

Caves Valley is the developer of the controversial project known as Towson Station and was the sole developer of Towson Row until Greenberg Gibbons took over as lead developer. The long-stalled Towson Row project was the recipient of a $43 million County bailout.

Baltimore County Votes got another $12,600 from other development-related firms on Thursday. The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), a teachers’ union, had also transferred $12,000 to the super PAC. Ms. Almond has been endorsed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

The Sun also reported that the Baltimore County Votes PAC, after receiving the $30,100 on Thursday, spent nearly $32,000 on direct mail on Friday. We have not yet seen what that direct mailing looks like, but you can bet that it will include more attack ads.

The Towson Flyer reported that Baltimore County Votes was established last month to benefit Almond. The super PAC’s chairperson is attorney Kathleen Bustraan, a prominent Towson lawyer active in Democratic politics in Baltimore County.

The contributions made last week by Caves Valley Partners to Baltimore County Votes hardly were the first contributions made by Caves Valley to support Ms. Almond. Caves Valley Partners has contributed generously in the past to the campaign account of Ms. Almond, as have other developers, including Greenberg Gibbons, the current lead developer of Towson Row. It is Caves Valley Partners, however, that seems most eager to try to push Ms. Almond over the finish line in her campaign for County Executive.

Ms. Almond has expressed her irritation at being accused of being a central figure (if not the central figure, with the passing of former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz) in the pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County government:

“There is not a pay-to-play system and I do not like that term and it is just not a term that is something that I will put up with anymore,” Ms. Almond said at a recent debate. “I have to say that most people on this stage have taken money from developers, from community people, from special-interest groups, but it doesn’t mean you’re giving something back. It just means that they want to see you elected to the office because they know you’re fair, because they know you will work with them, communicate with them. It’s all about those relationships and those partnerships.”

Right, Ms. Almond, you’re getting all this money from developers because they know you’re fair. As described by the Baltimore Sun editorial board, your denial of the pay-to-play culture in Towson is “mind boggling.” Fortunately, the voters of Baltimore County are not nearly as stupid as you take them to be.

Under current Maryland law, what Caves Valley Partners is doing is perfectly legal.  It is up to a candidate for Baltimore County Executive to decide when a relationship with a developer that does business in the county is too cozy.  If this relationship gets any cozier, Caves Valley Partners might just as well make Ms. Almond an Honorary Partner.






The Baltimore County oligarchy takes aim at Jim Brochin.

There is an oligarchy comprised of rich, powerful men who exercise an inordinate amount of control over the Baltimore County government and who are the principal beneficiaries of the pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County. They are determined to install Councilwoman Vicki Almond as the next County Executive to preserve their power and influence.  And they are increasingly fearful that they will not succeed.

That oligarchy, orchestrated by former county executive Jim Smith, is now taking dead aim at State Senator Jim Brochin who, according to a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll, is the decided frontrunner in the Democratic primary race for Baltimore County Executive. Mr. Brochin also happens to be a declared enemy of the pay-to-play culture in Towson.

In a post yesterday, I stated that a campaign of dirty tricks against Mr. Brochin was inevitable. Less than a day later I received in the mail a large, glossy mailer sent out by the “Baltimore County Victory Slate” (BCVS), a “slate fund” controlled by Mr. Smith. The mailer featured a demeaning photograph purporting to be Mr. Brochin with two fingers crossed behind his back.

The mailer urged me to vote for the “Southwest Team” of Ms. Almond and Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents my district. It attacked Mr. Brochin for not being a “Real Democrat” and for his alleged opposition to gun control.

Never mind that gun control is an issue decided on the state and federal levels, not the local level. Or that any favor Mr. Brochin enjoyed with the NRA ended when he co-sponsored a 2009 bill that allows judges to require subjects of temporary protective orders to give up their guns and voted in favor of Maryland’s ban on assault weapons in 2013.

The mailer did not go after Johnny Olszewski, Jr., the other Democratic contender in the primary, even though he voted against both the 2009 and 2013 gun control bills when he was a state delegate. Why wasn’t he mentioned in the ad? Because he is lagging well behind Mr. Brochin and Ms. Almond in the polls, and it is Mr. Brochin who is the main obstacle to the oligarchy’s goal of getting Ms. Almond elected. A mailer like the one in question is more effective when a single candidate is targeted.

Slate funds have always been controversial in Maryland, not only for an initial absence of limits on contributions to individual candidates but also because of their lack of transparency. The BCVS, however, has had an especially controversial history.

The BCVS was established in 2006 by Mr. Smith when he was the Baltimore County Executive. He set up the slate fund, contributed $400,000 to it from his own campaign account, and promptly transferred $315,000 from the slate fund to the campaign of Scott Shellenberger, then running for his first term as Baltimore County State’s Attorney.  Mr. Smith ultimately contributed $585,000 to the slate fund from his own campaign account and moved $465,000 to the campaign account of Mr. Shellenberger in 2006.

It was a whopping amount of money for one candidate to give to another, especially when the candidate giving the money was the sitting County Executive and the receiving candidate was the would-be State’s Attorney for the county. It raised eyebrows around the state and drew immediate criticism.

Common Cause of Maryland noted its opposition to slate funds in general. Mr. Shellenberger’s opponent in 2006, Steve Bailey, was more specific:

“I never expected and was quite frankly shocked the county executive [Jim Smith] would form what appears to be a sham slate,” Mr. Bailey said. “Even if it technically complies with the letter of the law, it clearly violates the spirit of the law.”

Mr. Bailey filed complaints with both the State Board of Elections and the State Prosecutor. He was right; Mr. Smith may have violated the spirit of the law, but he did not violate its letter and was cleared of any wrongdoing.

A few words to explain the unease about the amount of money steered by Mr. Smith to Mr. Shellenberger in 2006: The allegations of a pay-to-play culture and too-cozy relationships between developers and County officials did not begin when the late Kevin Kamenetz took office as Mr. Smith’s successor in 2010, and the good old boys’ network was in full swing during Mr. Smith’s tenure as County Executive. Baltimore County had a robust history of corruption in prior decades.

Although Mr. Smith, a former Circuit Court judge, had an untarnished reputation, a few of his predecessors as County Executive such as Spiro Agnew and Dale Anderson did not. The idea of a Baltimore County State’s Attorney beholden to a Baltimore County Executive to the tune of almost one-half million dollars in campaign funds just did not sit well. For example, the State’s Attorney for a county is one of the few public officials who has the power under state law to refer a matter involving a county executive to the State Prosecutor for investigation.

To my knowledge, Mr. Shellenberger has never referred a matter involving alleged corruption within Baltimore County government to the State Prosecutor. Given some of the events that I have studied in Baltimore County, I find that difficult to understand.

In 2010, the BCVS ran into controversy for a second time. Even though Mr. Smith wasn’t running for any office at the time, he transferred money in his campaign account to candidates for County Council through the BCVS.

In 2015, the General Assembly amended the law governing slate funds to limit membership in a slate fund to persons running for office. It was referred to as the “Jim Smith rule.” Also, donations to individual members of the slate fund were capped at $24,000 which, incidentally, was $441,000 less than the amount given to Mr. Shellenberger by Mr. Smith via the BCVS.

The third time that the BCVS ran into trouble was in 2017, when it was accused by the State Prosecutor of making a $100,000 loan to Catherine Pugh in April 2016, a loan that some believed helped get Ms. Pugh over the finish line in her primary fight with former mayor Sheila Dixon. Although Ms. Pugh was running for mayor at the time of the loan she was not an official member of the slate as required by law.

By the time the civil charges were filed in January 2017, Ms. Pugh had been elected mayor and had appointed Mr. Smith to a $175,000 position in her administration as Chief of Strategic Alliances. I have been unable to find a specific job description for his position.

When the civil charges were filed against the BCVS in 2017, Donald Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, told the Sun that Mr. Smith had a reputation for being an “extremely honorable and a decent guy.” I take Mr. Norris’s word for that.

In fact, I have no doubt that the principals of Caves Valley Partners and all the other rich and powerful guys who lavish money on the campaign accounts of Baltimore County elected officials are also honorable and decent guys. But that’s not the point. The point is that a handful of rich and powerful men pursuing their own interests should not be wielding such extraordinary influence over the affairs of County government.

I also believe that honorable is as honorable does. The mailer that I received today attacking Jim Brochin suggests that honor has given way to desperation.  In my opinion, it was misleading and shameful at best, scurrilous at worst. Mr. Smith needs to come out of hiding and tell us who designed and approved the mailer. It was what one would expect from political bottom-feeders, not from rich and powerful men. Unless the two are one and the same.

The denial by Vicki Almond of a pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County isn’t just “mind-boggling.” It is insulting to the intelligence of county voters and ignores a problem that needs to be fixed and fixed soon.

The endorsement by the Baltimore Sun of John Olszewski, Jr. for Baltimore County Executive in the Democratic primary stated that one of his opponents, County Councilwoman Vicki Almond “represents politics as usual in Towson,” pointing out that “she hasn’t articulated much sense of what’s broken much less how to fix it.” The editorial board added:

“Her insistence, for example, that developers don’t wield outsize influence over county government is mind boggling.”

Ms. Almond’s denial of the existence of a pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County government is much more than mind-boggling. It is insulting to the intelligence of the voters of Baltimore County and would endanger the future of the County should she be elected County Executive.

A personal disclosure: I am not affiliated with nor have I endorsed any candidate for Baltimore County Executive. I am, however, based on considerable research and analysis, a strong critic of the pay-to-play culture that prevails in the Baltimore County government. My post on the history of Towson Station and the culture of soft corruption in Baltimore County describes my concerns.

I believe that, unless the pay-to-play culture and the dominance of builders and land developers and their attorneys over County elected officials is ended, the quality of life in Baltimore County will erode at a quickening pace, and the financial challenges that the County already faces in the near-term future will grow exponentially worse. Simply put, the County has mortgaged its future to pay for unrestrained growth that primarily benefits a handful of special interests, and those chickens are coming home to roost.

As a secondary effect, the pay-to-play culture has resulted in what often is an adversarial relationship between County government and its citizens, with developers and the County on one side and citizens on the other. County officials bend over backwards to protect these special interests. That frequently means that County agencies make it as hard as possible for citizens to exercise their right to find out what is going on in their government and to make their voices heard when it comes time for the County to make decisions.

There is an excellent chronicle of the pay-to-culture and how it has corroded Baltimore County government written by Michael Ruby in the Villager. My favorite example of the grief experienced by citizens and members of the media when trying to penetrate the fog generated by County agencies to obscure their pro-developer leanings was a story written by Ann Constantino in the Baltimore Post.  It is must-read story with an accompanying must-watch video.

In terms of the County Executive race, my opposition to the pay-to-play culture does put me squarely within the ABV (Anyone but Vicki) camp in the Democratic primary.  Of all the candidates, only County Councilwoman Vicki Almond has denied the existence of a pay-to-play culture. She has gone from the old saw about developers donating money to the campaigns of elected officials to secure “access” rather than to gain influence to now claiming that developers give gobs of money to her and others simply because they want to see the best candidates win. Best candidates for whom, and for what?

Ms. Almond, the voters of Baltimore County are not stupid. Torrents of money flow from developers and their law firms into the campaign coffers of selected candidates, including you, because they expect those candidates to support their development proposals. As pointed out by the Sun, you can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge that it exists.

There is a pay-to-play culture in Baltimore County, and the voters of the County know that Ms. Almond is knee-deep in it. I have said in the past that Ms. Almond deserves credit for at least adding gender equity to the good old boys’ network that has run Baltimore County for decades. If Ms. Almond is elected County Executive, the pay-to-pay culture will continue unabated.

If you want an example of how addicted elected officials are to the gravy train of developer money, watch the Baltimore County Council work session on May 29th beginning at about minute 59 on the recording. The ostensible subject of that part of the work session was Bill No. 52-18, a minor bill introduced by Ms. Almond to further restrict access to firearms by minors.

Council Chairman Julian Jones, in what he later described as taking a “liberty” as chairman (a gross understatement), launched into a gratuitous attack on State Senator Jim Brochin, who was not present, that had absolutely nothing to do with the bill. As if on cue, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins chimed in with a comment on donations by the NRA to Mr. Brochin. The pathetic display looked like it had been orchestrated.

Mr. Brochin, like Ms. Almond, is a Democratic candidate for County Executive, and he has made dismantling the pay-to-play culture the centerpiece of his campaign. Consequently, his candidacy threatens to derail the gravy train on which Mr. Jones and Ms. Bevins are aboard.

The fact at these two council members, especially the chairman, were willing to debase themselves to attack Mr. Brochin is a testament to the determination of the developers, and the elected officials whose campaigns they finance, to do whatever it takes to protect their pieces of the action. The financial stakes are very high, and those who benefit from the pay-to-play culture from both inside and outside County government apparently are not going to surrender control of the County without a dirty, no-holds-barred fight.

I can’t resist a word about the endorsement of Ms. Almond by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Baltimore County lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police that represents rank-and-file members of the Baltimore County Police Department. I don’t know what was said to obtain those endorsements, but I believe that the members of those unions can be confident that their interests will always take a back seat to the interests of builders and developers if Ms. Almond is elected.

I was never impressed with the vision or selflessness of public employee unions during my career in local government. I did learn, however, that individual teachers and police officers tend to make up their own minds about candidates for local office. I urge teachers and police officers (the ones who live in Baltimore County, that is) to weigh the long-term interests and financial health of the County against any promises made to increase their salaries or improve their benefits.

The good news is that there are two highly-credible candidates for Baltimore County Executive running against Ms. Almond in the Democratic primary. Neither Mr. Brochin nor Mr. Olszewski have been swallowed up by the pay-to-play culture in Towson and both are far more likely than Ms. Almond to end what the Baltimore Sun euphemistically described in its endorsement as “politics as usual” in Baltimore County government.

Is it time for another Donald Pomerleau?

The most recent revelations about the command environment of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) have persuaded me of the truth of two facts: The first is that the BPD is at this point a bullshit operation. The second is that the next Police Commissioner should come from outside the department.

What do I mean by a “bullshit operation”? A bullshit operation is one in which all kind of bullshit is allowed to happen because of the absence of effective leadership.

I also mean that anything now being said by city or police officials about improvements made to the department or about positive changes to the norms and values of both commanders and rank-and-file officers must be taken with a grain of salt; in other words, as bullshit. The BPD has been in crisis for some time, and the crisis is deepening. Things won’t improve until the leadership improves.

There was an excellent letter in the Baltimore Sun on Sunday making the case that the city must look outside the department for the next Police Commissioner. The writer suggested that the problems within the BPD could no longer be written off as a “few bad apples” because it now appears that the barrel is rotten from the top down. Who is willing to take the risk that someone from within the department has not been compromised by the corrupted culture?

The allegations regarding former police commissioner Daryl De Sousa illustrate the problem. De Sousa, ousted because he is under federal indictment for failing to file income tax returns, now stands accused of favoritism by allowing Major Kimberly Burrus to go on a fellowship with the International Association of Chiefs of Police earlier this year.

Mr. De Sousa approved the fellowship, generally reserved for rising stars within the department, even though Major Burruss was under investigation for theft from a private foundation that she founded in 2015. The claim of favoritism was based on allegations that Major Burruss was having an affair with Colonel Osborne Robinson, De Sousa’s closest friend in the department, at the time she was awarded the fellowship.

Major Burruss’s former husband, BPD Captain Torran Burruss, also accused Colonel Robinson of harassing him about the affair by making lewd comments and gestures at work. Captain Burruss stated that he was on paid leave for a year because of the stress from the harassment, which he claimed that the department ignored.

If the allegations are true, it is a perfect example of what a bullshit operation looks like: Captain Burruss, by all accounts an exemplary police officer, suffers while Colonel Robinson retains his lofty position in the department. There is no other description of that outcome than bullshit. The behavior of which both Mr. De Sousa and Colonel Robinson are accused is toxic, destroys trust among superiors and subordinates, and would not be tolerated in any functional organization. The BPD currently is not a functional organization.

When Mr. De Sousa was sworn in as police commissioner in February, he stated that “I promise that I will not let this city down.” Maybe he meant that he wouldn’t let his cronies down. That seems to be the guiding principle of BPD commanders, for better or for worse.

Three years ago, I concluded that the system for maintaining the discipline of rank-and-file officers in the BPD was broken and could not be fixed until changes were made to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR). I have absolutely no doubt of the accuracy of that conclusion: Discipline is imposed too slowly and often too lightly, if it is imposed at all, and the situation is a direct consequence of the provisions of the LEOBR. Over the years, the systemic failure of the discipline has allowed a critical mass of mediocre and problem-causing officers to accumulate in the department.

The LEOBR is couched in terms of the “rights” of law enforcement officers. What it really does is confer privileges on law enforcement officers that no other employees, public or private, enjoy. It strips police chiefs of disciplinary authority over their own departments. I could go on and on, and I have done so many times.

I gradually have come to believe that there is a second serious problem with the BPD. The second problem is a deficiency in the general quality and integrity of leadership at the senior levels of the department. The two problems are separate, but together they have devastated the department.

When the Majestic Body Shop towing scandal broke six years ago, the question on my mind was how could a criminal enterprise involving so many officers go on for so long without it coming to the attention of BPD commanders? Did the large numbers of police vehicles routinely parked at the repair shop escape notice? In any event, the massive kickback scheme was not uncovered until a complaint from a competing towing company was turned over to the FBI.

The same question has arisen in the aftermath of an even worse scandal, the corrupt activities of the Gun Trace Task Force. Again, how could what amounted to a criminal gang operate with impunity inside the BPD over a period of several years or more? No commander ever had an inkling of what was going on?

A couple of weeks ago I floated the idea on Twitter that the next commissioner should come from outside the department. I got pushback from a couple of former members of the BPD for whom I have a lot of respect. They pointed out that a lack of knowledge of the city and the department can be a serious disadvantage. A new commissioner isn’t going to get rid of everyone, and it is helpful to know where the strengths and weaknesses of the department are right from the start.

I don’t disagree, but the advantage of familiarity must be weighed against what I now believe should be a presumption that anyone from within the department has, at the very least, formed alliances with commanders who either participated in or turned a blind eye toward corruption. It is worth recalling that, after the Majestic towing scandal, former commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III brought in an outsider to head the BPD division charged with rooting out corruption. Mr. Bealefeld had removed the previous director for socializing with an officer indicted on a charge of heroin trafficking.

It was not finding someone guilty by association; it was acting out of an abundance of caution when necessary to do so. I believe that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh should adopt the same approach going forward.

I am not saying that there are not candidates with strong ties to the department who could not overcome the presumption of taint; there undoubtedly are. An additional reason that I believe finding an “inside” candidate will be difficult, however, is that I believe that the new commissioner should bring with him or her a cadre of experienced senior officers who also have no history with the department.

The new commissioner will need more than one set of trusted eyes and ears to get a handle on the BPD. I don’t know whether it is realistic to expect that even someone from the outside can put together that type of team, but I believe that it would be much harder for someone whose experience lies solely within the BPD to do so.

Is it time for another Donald Pomerleau? The hard-charging former Marine colonel was appointed commissioner in 1962 for the express purpose of modernizing and sanitizing an almost hopelessly antiquated and corrupt BPD.

History suggests that the BPD exchanged one set of problems for another during Mr. Pomerleau’s 15-year reign, but he dramatically modernized the department and cleaned out much of the corruption that had plagued the department for decades. He was ruthless in his approach to revamping the department, but it is doubtful that any other approach would have succeeded under the circumstances.

I hasten to add that I am talking about a latter-day Donald Pomerleau, black or white, updated to contemporary standards of racial and gender sensitivity and respect for the sanctity of civil rights. But I am talking about a commissioner with the determination and forcefulness of personality to halt the free fall in which the BPD finds itself; a lesser personality will be overwhelmed by the challenges facing the BPD.

Do I believe that the seven-member panel announced by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to help her select the next commissioner will recommend such a candidate? I doubt it. Such panels can have a mediocritizing effect in the sense that candidates representing more radical change have a harder time gaining consensus. Maybe it is time for Mayor Pugh to take the bull by the horns – for once – and risk selecting a potentially transformative commissioner, rather than settle for someone along the lines of Kevin Davis or Daryl De Sousa.

Even if Mayor Pugh finds the ideal candidate, do I believe that he or she will have the rapid impact that Donald Pomerleau had on changing the department? No, especially not in getting rid of the deadwood and worse that has been allowed to accumulate in the ranks of lieutenant and below because of the destruction of the disciplinary system by the LEOBR.

The irony is that it was Mr. Pomerleau’s efforts to clean out under-performing and corrupt police officers when he came to Baltimore that was the impetus behind enactment of the LEOBR in 1974. The General Assembly somehow was persuaded that the ability to get rid of bad officers quickly and efficiently was a problem rather than a solution to a problem. It is worth noting the bill enacting the LEOBR was pushed by legislators from the city who were knee-deep in the corruption that Mr. Pomerleau was brought in by former governor J. Millard Tawes to combat.

I emphasize, as I always do, that that there are many good men and women in the BPD who are plugging along, doing their jobs, despite inadequate leadership in the department. It is more important than ever that these good police officers hang in there and keep trying to make the city safe. I am sure that there is light at the end of the tunnel, although I admit that I don’t yet see it.

Bucking the system, and making enemies.

Civil rights activist DeRay McKesson neither wants nor needs my sympathy. In fact, given the accusations being hurled at him, sympathy from an old white man is probably the last thing he needs right now. Nevertheless, I sympathized with him for the abuse heaped upon him after he announced his support for J.D. Merrill in the state senate race in the 41st legislative district in Baltimore.

Maybe I recognized some of the shaming of Mr. McKesson that is now going on. More on that later.

Mr. Merrill, a former teacher and administrator with the Baltimore City Public Schools, is the son-in-law of former mayor and governor Martin O’Malley. He is running against the incumbent, Senator Jill Carter, appointed by Governor Larry Hogan to fill the rest of the term of Nathaniel Oaks, who is scheduled to be sentenced next month after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Ms. Carter is a civil rights icon in the city who served 14 years in the House of Delegates before becoming the Director of the Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement in January 2007.

Growing up in the Wyndhurst neighborhood of the city and attending Roland Park Elementary, Gilman School, City College and Davidson College, Mr. Merrill fairly reeks of white privilege. Ms. Carter is the daughter of one of Baltimore’s greatest civil rights leaders, Walter P. Carter. It’s an interesting match-up to say the least and, at least in Baltimore, it was bound to get ugly.

Ms. Carter’s supporters began to get nervous when Mr. Merrill gained a significant upper hand in fundraising. Mr. Merrill did his part to stir the pot by attacking Ms. Carter for her attendance record while in the General Assembly.

Things really deteriorated, however, after Mr. McKesson, who gained national prominence as a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, announced his endorsement of Mr. Merrill. Mr. McKesson explained his endorsement by stating:

“J.D. won’t just talk about civil rights and social justice, he’ll build the coalitions necessary to deliver real results for our communities.”

The response on social media was immediate and nasty, full of ad hominem attacks on Mr. McKesson from supporters of Ms. Carter.

Mr. McKesson certainly has reason to be less than impressed with Ms. Carter’s style, or with her coalition-building skills. When he ran for mayor in 2016, Ms. Carter got personal in her attacks on him.

Then-Delegate Carter told The Guardian that Mr. McKesson’s run for mayor was “ridiculous.” She added:

“He has no authenticity and no base other than Twitter followers,” she said. “I’m a little worried that his decision is another self-serving scheme that will further divide our justice movement.”

In other words, Ms. Carter went right for the jugular, not satisfied with simply criticizing Mr. McKesson’s decision to run and choosing also to attack his character, basically calling him a self-serving poseur. There probably is no greater slur against an activist for any cause, especially civil rights, than calling that activist a phony.

Why was the personal attack necessary? Did she see him as a competitor for leadership of what she described as “our justice movement” that she wanted to squash?

If Ms. Carter really was concerned about dividing that movement, would she have lashed out at someone with 330,000 followers on Twitter, pitting her supporters against Mr. McKesson’s? I doubt it.  In any event, I am sure that her insulting remarks did little to endear her to Mr. McKesson.

As an aside, I recommend that you read the story by Greg Howard of the New York Times if you want a more balanced account of Mr. McKesson and his quixotic run for mayor in 2016. Small world that it is, Mr. Howard, like Ms. Carter, is a graduate of Loyola University in Baltimore. A native of Bowie, Mr. Howard went to work out of state after he graduated from Loyola, so he may get dismissed as just another “outsider.” Nevertheless, his description of Mr. McKesson suggests that there is much more to Mr. McKesson than the inauthentic, self-serving schemer described by Ms. Carter in 2016.

Mr. McKesson’s intimation that Ms. Carter’s accomplishments do not match her rhetoric hit a raw nerve with Ms. Carter and her supporters. For me, however, it had a ring of truth. In my opinion, the nature of her rhetoric often does more harm than good by getting in the way of results.

I am not discounting the fact that Ms. Carter has been a tireless advocate for civil rights; that is to her credit. There is no denying that she is smart, skilled and capable. I believe that it is fair, however, to question whether her occasional scorched-earth approach – like the language she employed against Mr. McKesson two years ago – has interfered with her ability to build a consensus behind her ideas.

Ironically, it was her attacks on Mr. Merrill’s father-in-law, former mayor and governor Martin O’Malley, that first drew my attention to Ms. Carter’s aggressive rhetoric. When she was in the House of Delegates, Ms. Carter was an outspoken and vehement critic of the “zero tolerance” policing strategy that Mr. O’Malley instituted when he was Baltimore’s mayor. She stated that the policy led to mass arrests of young black men and later described the policy as not only wrong but “savagely wrong.” As with Mr. McKesson, things became personal between Mr. O’Malley and Ms. Carter.

Mr. O’Malley believed that draconian measures were necessary to save the city from the wave of violent crime that was gripping the city when he took office as mayor in 2000. Whether he was right or wrong, he understandably bristled at suggestions that the policies that he advocated were racist or had an adverse effect on minority neighborhoods.

The thin-skinned O’Malley did not forgive Ms. Carter when he became governor in 2007. That year, Ms. Carter called for Mr. O’Malley to convene a special session of the General Assembly to address a 50% rate hike proposed by BGE. “I don’t support anything that Delegate Carter is for,” Mr. O’Malley remarked at a meeting.

The problem for Ms. Carter was that Mr. Malley wasn’t kidding. He was governor for eight years. Even Ms. Carter admitted that she felt “marginalized” during her time in the House of Delegates and accomplished less than she had hoped to.

All of which leads me to this: It was fair game for Mr. McKesson to suggest that the 41st district needs a senator who focuses less on talking and more on building coalitions to get the help that the city so desperately needs. The voters of the district will decide if he is correct and, if so, which candidate best fits that description.

It is likely that Ms. Carter will defeat Mr. Merrill in the Democratic primary and remain in her seat. If so, perhaps she will take Mr. McKesson’s remarks to heart, dial back the rhetoric, and build the types of coalitions necessary to pull her district and the city back from the edge of the abyss. At the very least, maybe she will stop making enemies that she doesn’t need to make, which is exactly what she did with Mr. McKesson.


In choosing to endorse Mr. Merrill, Mr. McKesson stepped out of line with the political establishment in Baltimore. I believe that the sociological term du jour used to describe the sorry state of contemporary American politics is “neotribalism.”  Maybe my sympathy for Mr. McKesson is based in part with my own recent experience in bucking tribal norms.

In my case, the tribe was the legal establishment in Anne Arundel County, where I lived and practiced law for 36 years. That tribe is overwhelmingly white. For example, there are 12 judges and six magistrates on the Circuit Court. All are lily white.

Last month I wrote a guest column in the Annapolis Capital condemning Judge Mark Crooks for attending a fundraiser in Severna Park last year for disgraced former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. At the time, Mr. Moore was raising money for his run to represent Alabama in the United States Senate and Judge Crooks was running for election to a full 15-year term on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Mr. Moore is an enemy of the rule of law. First elected chief justice in 2001, Mr. Moore was removed from office in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order instructing him to remove a monument to the Ten Commandants that he had installed in the state judiciary building. The people of Alabama again elected Mr. Moore chief justice in 2013.

Mr. Moore was suspended from his position as chief justice in 2016 and later resigned after instructing state probate court judges that they could refuse to apply the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court on same-sex marriages. Mr. Moore also has a long history of making racially and religiously bigoted remarks.

When asked about his attendance at Mr. Moore’s fundraiser, Judge Crooks stated that he was not “even remotely” aware of Mr. Moore’s background at the time of the fundraiser in September 2017. It was a claim that not everyone believed. In my opinion, Judge Crooks never adequately apologized for his mistake, if that is what it was.

In the face of the threat posed by President Donald Trump to the rule of law in this country, I have become a rule-of-law zealot. I have heeded the admonition by the conservative political analyst William Kristol that we have as much to fear from the “enablers and legitimizers” as the would-be despots. So, speaking of zero tolerance, I have zero tolerance for sitting judges who legitimize the enemies of the rule of law like Roy Moore by attending their fundraisers.

I knew I would get blowback from supporters of Judge Crooks for the guest column, and I did.  There never is a shortage of practicing lawyers anxious to curry favor with a sitting judge.

I also heard from the legal and political establishment in Anne Arundel County. In the minds of some, I had turned on one of my own and deserved to be shamed and shunned. Here is an excerpt from an email that I received from a well-known lobbyist who told me that he was helping Judge Crooks with the election and had urged him to go to all political events:

“David – I could not remain silent and not respond to your despicable and just plain mean op-ed piece concerning Mark Crooks. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself and I know from talking to people in the community, you have damaged your reputation and people have less respect for you, if any at all. . . You have completely changed my view about you from your outlandish column and as a former prosecutor and good lawyer you should be ashamed of what you wrote. I know Mark Crooks served our country honorable, and like you, a highly regarded state prosecutor. Shame shame on you.”

By stating that I can sympathize with Mr. McKesson about what happens when you take on an existing power structure I am not suggesting that our situations were comparable. I am largely retired from the practice of law and not looking for work, can withstand the loss of a few “friends” in the power structure and, most importantly, don’t expect to be in court in Anne Arundel County any time soon – I hope.

It took much more courage for Mr. McKesson to buck the establishment, especially if he hopes to remain active in Baltimore political and civic affairs. He can expect to be shamed, shunned and even punished for taking on the old guard; it is the unfortunate world we live in. I don’t subscribe to everything that Mr. McKesson says, but I admire his guts.


Finally, a word about “outsiders.” A lot of the criticism of Mr. McKesson’s decision to endorse Mr. Merrill included observations that, although Mr. McKesson is from Baltimore, he is not of Baltimore. Because he has spent much of his adult life (he is only 32) somewhere other than Baltimore, he is deemed an outsider.

You get that a lot in Baltimore. I certainly do, even though I’ve lived in the Baltimore metropolitan area for 45 years and attended law school in Baltimore for four years. I’m not a Baltimorean, and I accept that.

This parochial attitude is problematic for several reasons, however, including the fact that the city is so desperately in need of the state’s help. It is hard enough to persuade Maryland taxpayers who live outside the city that they should be willing to pay more taxes to support the city. When they hear that they are supposed to send money but keep their opinions on what to do with the money to themselves – and I have heard that sentiment expressed many times – the task just gets harder.

But the kicker, at least for me, is this: If the current “insiders” had been a bit more successful in running the city over the past decade or so, maybe there would be something to be said about not wanting outsiders coming in and messing things up. The reality, however, is that the city has been in a state of crisis for years, and the crisis is deepening. A little fresh blood and some insights from outsiders couldn’t possibly do any harm.

David A. Plymyer

Bad decisions highlight need for judicial evaluation program.

Recent judicial decisions in Baltimore underscore the need to remedy a troubling, longstanding deficiency: the absence of a formal program for evaluating the performances of judges in Maryland. Twenty years ago, a select committee of Maryland judges and lawyers recommended that the state adopt a mandatory evaluation program run by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The proposal went nowhere in 1998, and generally has been ignored ever since.

The sentence imposed by Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn on Steven Bagshaw, a former lieutenant within the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), was flabbergasting. Mr. Bagshaw was convicted by a jury of theft and misconduct in office for defrauding the city of more than $8,600 in pay during a six-week period last year while he was under surveillance by BPD internal affairs investigators.

Judge Phinn sentenced Mr. Bagshaw to one day of unsupervised probation before
judgment and refused requests to order him to pay restitution for the money he stole. Probation before judgment means Mr. Bagshaw will not have a criminal record.

My criticism of Judge Phinn is based as much on what she said as on what she did. Her explanation for her leniency sent a terrible message to the BPD and its officers. Judge Phinn castigated the BPD for not having “clean hands” and putting Mr. Bagshaw in a “bad situation.” She faulted the department for not “paying attention” to Mr. Bagshaw during his assignment as the head of the unit assigned to patrol near the Horseshoe Casino. In other words, Judge Phinn believed that the BPD was complicit in the crime. No, it wasn’t, Judge Phinn.

The BPD may have been guilty of lax internal controls, but that had nothing to do with Mr. Bagshaw’s culpability for deliberately falsifying time sheets to obtain regular and overtime pay to which he was not entitled. His culpability and the BPD’s laxity are two separate things.

Judge Phinn’s explanation implied that the moral character of lieutenants in the BPD is so low that weak oversight of time sheets is tantamount to an invitation to falsify the time sheets. The department is doomed if the standard of conduct in the BPD is such that police officers are expected to refrain from dishonesty only if they must work hard to get away with it.

Then there is the case of Dawnta Harris. A series of decisions by juvenile magistrates allowed the 16-year-old to remain on the streets and, according to police, in a position to run over and kill Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio on May 21. He was free despite a record demonstrating that his behavior was dangerously out of control, as attested to by his own mother, who said she repeatedly asked authorities for help with her son.

On May 10, according to a timeline compiled by WJZ-TV, the local CBS affiliate, a magistrate in the juvenile division of the Baltimore City Circuit Court released Dawnta from custody and placed him on “community” detention, even though he had previously escaped from a juvenile facility in Montgomery County. At the time, Dawnta had been found guilty of car theft in Baltimore and was facing similar charges in Montgomery

On May 14, Dawnta apparently went into “AWOL” status and violated the conditions of community detention. Neither his mother nor the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) was able to reach him.

On May 18, a hearing was held with Dawnta’s mother, DJS representatives, and people from the public defender’s and prosecutor’s offices. On that date, the court failed to issue an order authorizing the police or juvenile services officers to find and take Dawnta into immediate custody. Three days later, Officer Caprio was killed. (The name of the judicial official who made the decision has not been released to the public.)

The court’s decision is inexplicable. A juvenile with a lengthy record violated the conditions of his community detention and was in the wind. A writ should have been issued for his apprehension and detention, regardless of what DJS or anyone else recommended.

Steven Platt, a retired circuit judge from Prince George’s County, has worked for years to promote judicial accountability through a “rigorous but fair” program of judicial performance evaluations. He points out that the absence of such a program creates an incongruous situation: Maryland holds contested elections for Circuit Court judges but provides voters with no objective criteria on which to decide whether to retain sitting judges.

The absence of such a program also does something else: It erodes what little confidence is left in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, especially in Baltimore. After the Bagshaw sentence and the decisions that left Dawnta Harris free to run into Officer Caprio, try persuading citizens that judges are doing just fine without being held accountable through evaluations of their decisions.

Many states have proved that judicial performance evaluations can be conducted without compromising judicial independence. It is long past time to implement a program of judicial performance evaluations in Maryland.

[Published as an op ed by The Baltimore Sun on June 1, 2018 but not posted to my blog until July 5, 2018. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]