An attempt by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to pivot from character concerns to issues in the increasingly nasty gubernatorial contest yielded more vitriol Tuesday as Gansler accused a rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, of putting politics ahead of protecting women from domestic violence.
Brown's camp came right back as Del. Cheryl Glenn of Baltimore, an ally of the lieutenant governor and a former victim of abuse, charged that Gansler was using the issue to "score cheap political points."
The exchange came as Brown rolled out proposals for curbing domestic violence and sexual assault as part of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014.
It followed two weeks in which Gansler has taken lumps over a Washington Post report that he had ordered his Maryland State Police drivers to speed and run red lights and a Baltimore Sun report that he was present at a senior week party where teens were drinking and didn't act to stop it.
Brown, joined in Columbia by his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, outlined a plan to reduce domestic violence that they called "Our Path to Zero."
Brown called for a statewide network of screening centers in community hospitals and legislation that would allow victims of domestic violence to separate their cellphone contracts from a partner's plan without having to pay a financial penalty.
The lieutenant governor said cellphone contracts — and the fees required to get out of them — are often an impediment to a victim's attempts to get away from an abuser.
Brown also vowed to end what he called Maryland's "dubious distinction" of requiring people who feel threatened by a domestic partner to show "clear and convincing" evidence of danger in order to obtain a final protective order.
Brown said that standard of proof is higher than in any other state. He said he would back the lower standard of "preponderance of evidence" used in most civil suits.
Flanked by relatives of victims, Brown described the way domestic violence affected his own family. His cousin, Cathy Brown, was shot and killed by an estranged boyfriend in Montgomery Village in 2008.
But in a news release, Gansler charged that Brown's commitment to the issue faltered in 2003 when he was named vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The panel was and still is chaired by Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat who opposed a measure Brown sponsored in the preceding years to reduce a judge's authority to cut sentences for convicted offenders.
The Gansler release quoted Brown saying in 2003 that he would not reintroduce the bill out of deference to his new chairman.
The Gansler campaign sought to link that decision with a May 2003 case in which a former convict was arrested in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend after having served time for shooting his wife to death.
The bill was introduced by another delegate that year but failed. Had it passed, it would have come too late to help the girlfriend.
Brown co-sponsored the bill again in 2004. But the Gansler campaign accused Brown of caving.
"He traded buddying up to the chairman over protecting the victims of domestic violence," Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George's County, Gansler's running mate, said in a statement.
Dorothy Lennig, director of the legal clinic for the House of Ruth of Maryland, said advocates for victims of domestic violence see both Gansler and Brown as allies. But she added that they regard the lieutenant governor as a particularly passionate champion of their cause.
"To say the lieutenant governor has been a slacker on this … is just unfair," said Lennig, who has not taken a position in the governor's race. "After his cousin was killed, it's really been a key issue for him and he really speaks from the heart."
All three Democratic candidates have tried to make the issue their own.
Brown has spoken of a reduction in domestic assaults under the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Gansler has pointed to his creation of a specialized domestic-violence docket when he was state's attorney in Montgomery County.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur, also of Montgomery County, has proposed legislation that would provide paid sick leave for victims of domestic violence. She did not provide a response to Brown's plan.
Domestic violence has yet to emerge as a significant issue in the Republican primary contest.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun