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High profile attorney Murphy says Jessamy has "failed"

Billy Murphy, the longtime criminal defense attorney, says he gave incumbent State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy "a 15-year pass just because she was a black woman" and is speaking out in support of her challenger Gregg Bernstein.

Calling his silence until now a "failure of leadership" on his part, Murphy, a civil rights attorney and former judge who once ran for mayor, said he has a strong preference for black leadership but that Bernstein is simply more qualified than Jessamy.

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"We believe, with justification, that a really excellent black lawyer should have that job," Murphy said Saturday. "Gregg Bernstein meets the bill to a 'T', except for the color of his skin. Baltimoreans, black and white, deserve more than what they're getting. He will provide enormously better service to the community."

Speaking along with partner Ken Ravenell, Murphy dismissed the notion that Bernstein supports a "lock 'em up" strategy or will encourage a "police state," as Jessamy and her supporters are charging. Murphy was a vocal critic of past zero tolerance strategies, once coming under fire for linking the tactics of Baltimore police officers with Nazis. He also comes from a distinguished family - his father was one of the first black judges in Maryland, and his great grandfather founded the Afro newspaper.

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"This notion of a police state [under Bernstein] is one of the grossest distortions, and I hope everybody can see through that," Murphy said. "This notion that he will set us back 60 years is an appeal to bigotry, and not a fair comment on his life, his history, his professionalism. It's an appeal on race appeal rather than dealing with the issues."

"The suggestion that the only thing that Gregg cares about is being tough on crime - well, he is tough on crime, but he's also a very compassionate guy," Ravenell said. "No one can incarcerate all defendants for all crimes. That's crazy."

Many observers have said the campaign has taken on deep racial under- and sometimes over - tones. Murphy said he believes former Mayor Martin O'Malley's infamous slams on Jessamy polarized the community and marked a moment where she "gained the loyalty of the black community without having earned it because of performance."

"We have a hard time introspectively as well as publicly criticizing black leadership," Murphy said. "When that leadership is attacked from the white community, black people get very defensive and close the wagons. But the attacks on Pat have nothing to do with race.

"Her record has been one disaster after another, and it's plain to see. The statistics on her office have been accurately quoted, and they're awful. It's time for a change."

Ravenell added: "If the voters looked at Pat's record, and did not consider race, the choice would be easy."

Murphy's support of Bernstein is not a total surprise, as he had donated money to Bernstein's campaign. And Jessamy supporters have already noted that Bernstein is supported by the most of the defense community, which Jessamy has implied as meaning that they see an opportunity to weaken her office (though that would contrast with the "police state" contention). Murphy and Ravenell laughed that statement off, saying that she would have gladly accepted their support and noting that many attorneys move between prosecution and defense work, including Milton Allen, the city's first black state's attorney.


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