Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler committed professional misconduct when he told a reporter he planned to offer a plea bargain to a murder defendant, a judge has ruled.
Mr. Gansler said yesterday he was confident the Maryland Court of Appeals will reject the groundbreaking finding, which he called “a technical violation.”
If not, the state’s highest court could order a reprimand, suspension or disbarment, said John C. Broderick, assistant bar counsel for the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, which brought the charges.
The Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the sanctions this fall, Mr. Broderick said.
The case marks the first time a Maryland state’s attorney has been charged with violating the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct based upon public statements made outside a courtroom, Frederick County Circuit Judge Julie R. Stevenson noted in her written opinion Wednesday.
Judge Stevenson was assigned the case by the Court of Appeals, which oversees cases of reputed attorney misconduct.
The judge found that Mr. Gansler, who was elected last year to a second, four-year-term, violated a rule in April 2000 when he told a reporter for the Gazette Community News that he planned to offer a plea bargain to James Edward Perry, the defendant in a murder-for-hire case.
The Gazette also reported Mr. Gansler’s statement that “when the offer is formally presented, Perry would have six weeks to make a decision.”
At the time, Perry was awaiting retrial after his successful appeal of a murder conviction. He was convicted of murder for a second time in April 2001 and sentenced to life in prison.
Judge Stevenson wrote that Mr. Gansler “knew or reasonably should have known the statement would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding, the pending retrial of James Perry.”
This was particularly true since Mr. Gansler’s statement set forth a deadline for acceptance or rejection of a plea offer, Judge Stevenson wrote.
Judge Stevenson found no misconduct in connection with four other Gansler public comments regarding Perry and three other cases. However, the judge wrote that she was “troubled” by Mr. Gansler’s statements at pretrial news conferences in which he expressed opinions that certain defendants were guilty.
Mr. Gansler declared victory on those charges and said he wasn’t troubled by the misconduct finding.
“We’re confident the Court of Appeals will not uphold this technical violation,” he said.