- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Maryland’s highest court reprimanded a prosecutor yesterday for his remarks to reporters about a plea bargain in a murder-for-hire case.

The reprimand, which is the first of its kind in the state, does not affect Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler’s ability to practice law. However, the state Attorney Grievance Commission will make note of the reprimand on Mr. Gansler’s record, indicating that he violated rules of conduct for Maryland lawyers.

Mr. Gansler said it is his responsibility to inform the public about what happens in the criminal justice system.

“I think [the Maryland Court of Appeals] was trying to clarify what prosecutors can and can’t say regarding a case,” he said.

The court reprimanded Mr. Gansler because of remarks he made before the 2001 trial of James Perry. 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.

Mr. Gansler said he planned to offer a plea bargain to Perry, who would have had six weeks to make a decision.

The Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct states that lawyers should not make “extrajudicial statements” if they could “materially prejudice” a court case. It lists discussion of guilty pleas as prohibited speech.

The rules also allow lawyers to discuss information already in the public record “without elaboration.” In the Perry case, defense attorneys and the victims’ families also had spoken of a plea deal.

Mr. Gansler has won several major cases while in office, including the 1999 case of Hadden Clark in the disappearance of 6-year-old Michelle Dorr 13 years earlier.

He prosecuted boxer Mike Tyson in 1999 for punching a driver after a car accident in Gaithersburg, winning a one-year sentence.

Carmen Shepard, Mr. Gansler’s attorney, downplayed the reprimand, saying it was the equivalent of a teacher telling a student who was yelling in the schoolyard to stop.

The case marked the first time a state’s attorney has been accused of violating the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct based upon public statements made outside a courtroom.

Melvin Hirshman, the commission’s bar counsel, said that it was “a seminal case” and that he was unable to find another like it.

He also said he doesn’t know of a case in which a prosecutor has been reprimanded publicly for pretrial statements.

He said the reprimand should send a signal that the commission will investigate a case regardless of who is involved. Mr. Gansler will have to pay for legal expenses of the case, probably less than $2,000, Mr. Hirshman said.

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