When Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown brought up a 2003 decision by the Court of Appeals to reprimand Douglas F. Gansler for his conduct as a prosecutor during Wednesday night's Democratic gubernatorial debate, Brown's chief rival in the campaign had a bold answer.
Gansler, now attorney general, said he sees the rebuke as "a badge of honor" because he had spoken out against a Montgomery County judge who told an 11-year-old sexual assault victim that she shared the blame because "it takes two to tango."
In political terms, Gansler's public criticism of that judge was a high point of his time as Montgomery County State's Attorney, but the case in which he was reprimanded was another one entirely. And while Gansler implied that the state high court's sanction was a result of the "two to tango" case, nothing in the court's written decision bears that out.
"It was classic misdirection," said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College who watched the televised clash of Brown, Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur. It was also quite effective, said Eberly, who scored Gansler as the winner of the exchange and the debate.
In the case Brown pointed to, the high court issued a rare reprimand of a sitting state's attorney for making "extrajudicial" pretrial statements about defendants in three pending cases in a case brought by the state's Attorney Grievance Commission. The high court decided then that the brash young prosecutor, who frequently pushed the boundaries of legal conventions, had made statements to the press about three pending cases in a way that -- as Brown put it -- "denied a defendant the right to a fair trial."
It appeared that Gansler was ready for Brown's line of attack. "I have the honor of being reprimanded by the Court of Appeals because I took on a judge who said to an 11-year-old girl who was raped by a sexual Internet predator that it takes two to tango," Gansler said.
The attorney general was referring to a 2000 case in which Circuit Court Judge Durke G. Thompson made that statement while giving the adult defendant a sentence that Gansler publicly criticized as "more appropriate for a shoplifter."
Gansler's outspoken criticism of a sitting judge brought criticism in legal circles, but generally earned him approval from women's groups and the broader public. Earlier this year, he made the case the subject of one of his TV ads.
Eberly said Gansler's answer was clearly calculated to make viewers think he was reprimanded for standing up to the judge in that case.
"That was absolutely the impression he wanted the viewer to get," said Eberly. "The viewer is sort of left saying, 'I'm glad he stood up to that judge even though they had no idea one case had nothing to do with the other.'"
Eberly said Gansler's answer played into his campaign theme that he's the candidate who's willing to stand up to the "establishment" – including the judiciary.
In public, Gansler has consistently taken a defiant stance toward the reprimand, insisting he was giving the public information it deserved to know in cases of particularly heinous crimes. It was far from the first time he has attributed his reprimand to a desire on the part of the high court judges to retaliate against him.
Katie Hill, a Gansler campaign spokeswoman said Gansler pivoted to the "tango" case because "that's when it all started." She said the reprimand case shows that "Doug again ruffled feathers because he's never been afraid to stand up to old school judges."
Hill said, however, that she had no way to prove that judges connected the two cases.
In part, Gansler's statement can be attributed to the pressure to condense an answer into 30 or 60 seconds. The attorney general was not the only one onstage Wednesday night who gave an answer that might have misled viewers or exaggerated their roles in certain events.
Brown, for instance, inflated his role in the effort to recover from the botched launch of the state's health exchange web site when he said "I reorganized the leadership at the exchange." While the lieutenant governor might have recommended such action, that power lies with Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is not known for delegating final decisions on important matters to subordinates.
After Brown repeated his characterization of Gansler's plan to lower the corporate income tax as a "1.6 billion giveaway," the Gansler camp cried foul - saying Brown failed to recognize the added revenue from another part of Gansler's tax plan or the possible increased revenue from an anticipated boost in economic growth. Neither did Brown make it clear that the $1.6 billion figure is an estimate of the cumulative revenue loss over nine years.
Nevertheless, Eberly said, Brown's charge falls within the tacitly accepted bounds of accuracy in political debate. He said the lieutenant governor was under no obligation to offer mitigating circumstances for Gansler's plan. Brown campaign manager Justin Schall provided figures showing that the figure was based on an extrapolation of Department of Legislative Services estimates, which don't take into account theoretical increased growth because it considers such thing impossible to quantify.
Mizeur indulged in a common but inaccurate form of political boasting when she said "I've expanded health insurance to more than to 50,000 more children in our state." The two-term delegate sponsored and played a major role in the passage of legislation that expanded children's care, but it was an action of the General Assembly and governor instead of a strictly personal accomplishment. Likewise, her contention that a Mizeur administration could cut income taxes for 90 percent of Marylanders without a revenue loss rests on an assumption that neither the millionaires nor the large corporations she proposes to shift the burden to would take action to avoid the increases.
Overall, Mizeur's performance Wednesday night was substantially free of unsupported statements. In the aftermath of the debate, when the Brown and Gansler camps pointed fingers at each other over alleged misstatements, neither bothered to object to anything Mizeur said.
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