- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley has asked the state’s top prosecutor to review a crime-fighting policy which riled civil libertarians and Baltimore lawmakers while he was mayor of Baltimore.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, asked Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, also a Democrat, to consider the city policy of having the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office review cases for probable cause. The policy was a central part of his crime-fighting strategy, which ultimately led to a civil rights lawsuit being filed against the city.

“Public confidence in the criminal justice system is undermined when a person is arrested and then released with no determination of probable cause, as then the exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to pursue a case is often confused with an alleged absence of probable cause, which is then spun as a supposed ‘false arrest,’ ” Mr. O’Malley wrote in his letter to Mr. Gansler.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Times.

City lawmakers say they are confused by Mr. O’Malley’s apparent policy reversal and wonder why he waited seven years to ask for a legal review.

“To me it seems like it’s totally regressive,” said Delegate Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat running for mayor.

Mr. O’Malley’s spokesman said the request was part of the trial and error of governance.

“After seeing how it worked in practice, [Mr. O’Malley] decided this would be better,” said Steve Kearney, a spokesman for Mr. O’Malley.

But civil libertarians say the move is an attempt to remove independent oversight of one of the former mayor’s most-heavily criticized policies.

“The legal theory that’s asserted [in Mr. O’Malley’s request to the Attorney General] is Orwellian double-speak,” said David Rocah, staff attorney for the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “This idea that there’s something improper about the state’s attorney’s office reviewing cases is just ludicrous.”

The debate revolves around the large number of arrests city police made during Mr. O’Malley’s tenure as mayor.

The ACLU and the state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit against the city and Mr. O’Malley last year, purporting civil rights violations for the large number of city residents who were arrested but released without charge.

City lawmakers said the number of arrests created a “crisis,” and residents jeered Mr. O’Malley at a public forum in January 2006 when he testified about the problem.

“People were saying, ‘This is an outrage, I never did anything,’ ” said Delegate Keith E. Haynes, a Baltimore Democrat who successfully pushed legislation to purge the arrest records for those who were caught and released without being charged.

Mr. O’Malley pushed to include the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office in vetting charges made by city police, to reduce a backlog in the city’s criminal booking system in one of his first major policy declarations as mayor in 2000.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Gansler said the Attorney General’s Office is still reviewing the request and will issue an opinion in the coming months.

A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said her office is compiling information for Mr. Gansler as he decides Mr. O’Malley’s request.

“It will include a very historical summary of the charging unit at central booking — the unit that was created at the request of the police department and was enhanced, expanded and funded at the request of Mayor O’Malley in early 2000,” said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Jessamy.

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