When Brian DeLeonardo looked back at his career as Carroll County’s state’s attorney, he spent most of the time talking about what he did outside the courthouse rather than inside.
The Maryland Attorney General’s website describes a state’s attorney’s job includes prosecuting crimes and providing legal advice to state agencies. However, DeLeonardo spent significant time in the community working to prevent crimes before they would happen.
He was appointed last month by Gov. Larry Hogan to be a Carroll County Circuit Court judge, replacing Judge Thomas Stansfield who retired from the bench last summer but now serves as a senior judge. DeLeonardo was sworn in Thursday at the historic courthouse to make it official.
DeLeonardo said it was a huge honor to be appointed to the Circuit Court bench. His swearing-in ceremony was held at the same place he tried his first trial.
“To come back now and sit as the judge is very full circle,” he said.
The Baltimore native has been has been working or living in Carroll County since 1996, starting in the state’s attorney’s office when he was a student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. The school’s program allowed him to practice with Carroll prosecutors.
Some of his classmates assigned to other jurisdictions complained how awful their experiences were, he said. Other jurisdictions have a quantity of cases that could prevent lawyers from giving it “the justice it deserves,” DeLeonardo explained.
He stuck around after learning the Carroll community was friendly and welcoming, similar to a community in North Carolina where he once lived, he said. The Carroll judges and attorneys were pleasant to work with as well, he added.
His experience as a professional attorney allowed him to see “the best and worst of judges,” he said, adding that Carroll has the best.
Before DeLeonardo was elected Carroll’s top prosecutor in 2014, he was a partner at DeLeonardo, Smith & Associates for 10 years, a practice that handled mostly criminal cases. He spent four years in the Office of the Maryland Attorney General where he established and supervised the Firearms Trafficking Unit in the Criminal Investigations Division. And he worked five years as an assistant state’s attorney in Carroll’s office.
Deputy State’s Attorney Allan Culver, who’s worked at Carroll’s state’s attorney’s office since 2001, said he was “lucky enough” to be kept on after DeLeonardo was elected.
He added DeLeonardo was “supportive of the attorneys in the office when expanding our roles.”
Bringing positive change
When DeLeonardo first worked in the state’s attorney’s office, he said being the county’s state’s attorney was something he considered. When he did decide to run, he said he felt like he could bring positive change to the office.
At the time he ran, there was a looming opioid epidemic he wanted to be the focus of his campaign. Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor for the county’s prevention office for substance abuse, said she remembers when DeLeonardo first approached her at an event at Holy Spirit Church in Eldersburg.
“He said, ‘Linda, I’m going to run for state’s attorney but I want to make substance abuse issues one of my top priorities, and I want you to fill me in,’” she recalled. “He has been a partner from that day forward and he has kept his word.”
Auerback said when she and DeLeonardo were at a school event, they were asked about bringing back Heroin Kills, a grassroots organization founded by Auerback 20 years ago that raised money to spread awareness of substance abuse prevention through education and public service announcements. Auerback said she would if they had the money.
DeLeonardo made a commitment that day to find the money to fund it, she said, and “Heroin Still Kills,” the revived version, was born. He used drug forfeiture money to pay for the production of the awareness video.
“We’re very happy and proud of Brian and I’m really going to miss him too,” Auerback said, adding that he was a tremendous partner.
When it comes to addiction, DeLeonardo noticed it was a conversation people were not having often.
“I thought in order to raise awareness, we need to start the drug vigil,” he said.
DeLeonardo added vigils are held for victims of alcohol abuse, drink driving and homicide, but none for victims of overdoses. The first one was held during the beginning of his term in January 2015. His expectations for turnout was low, especially since it was being held on the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament.
However, 10 minutes prior to the start, people started piling in, he said. Colleagues were rushing back to the office to gather more chairs. Approximately 300 people showed up that night, he said. Some of those in the audience, he added, never publicly acknowledged their relative’s death from drugs until that night.
“And that’s an example of what the state’s attorney’s office can do,” DeLeonardo said.
One of the reasons DeLeonardo ran for state’s attorney, he said, was the desire to fix operations between the state’s attorney’s office and law enforcement agencies.
He assigned prosecutors from his office to be the liaison for each law enforcement agency in Carroll. He assisted victims of domestic violence by starting the county’s special victim’s unit and started an early intervention program that identifies low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and works to get them into treatment before they can commit more serious crimes because of an addiction.
DeLeonardo said if there’s a way to prevent a crime from ever happening, he’s going to do it. While he said he can’t change what a person has been through but “if I can prevent them being a victim,” he would.
DeLeonardo said he worked to bring state recognition to the county, which helped them receive grants for programs, recruiting prosecutors and pursuing legislation. In 2016, he was appointed to the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy by Gov. Larry Hogan. The following year, he was named the chair of the Governor’s Council on Gangs and Violent Networks. He was also the president of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association.
DeLeonardo said he was the first man in his extended family to graduate from high school and the first person to graduate from college. Attending law school was unheard of, he said, and he “always wanted to work hard to show he’s worthy of that.”
He said he continues to believe that and plans to do the same as a Circuit Court judge. He not only wants the community to feel he’ll deliver fairness and justice, but also make an impact in the community.
“In every job you have, you make it what you want to make it,” he said.