Candidate for Carroll County State’s Attorney David Ellin said he plans to file an ethics complaint against his opponent for the office, Del. Haven N. Shoemaker, Jr., R-District 5, after Shoemaker introduced legislation that would prohibit the county state’s attorney from maintaining a private practice.
Shoemaker, a former county commissioner and now a two-term state delegate, earlier this year filed to run for Carroll County State’s Attorney. His only opponent, Ellin, is a medical malpractice attorney who has run a private practice in Carroll County since 2004.
“For whatever reason the state’s attorney position has become of interest to me and I noticed an anachronism in the law regarding the Carroll County State’s Attorney position,” Shoemaker said at a Wednesday night hearing. “As we sit here today … there are only three counties in the entire state that don’t expressly forbid the state’s attorney from engaging in private practice on the side. Our county doesn’t expressly forbid it, Baltimore city doesn’t expressly forbid it, oddly enough, nor does Garrett County… And I suspect ... it goes back to the old days where the state’s attorney was not compensated particularly well.”
“It’s unethical for (Shoemaker) to introduce a bill that solely benefits himself,” Ellin said, adding that he planned to file a complaint with the Maryland Ethics Commission.
In 2017 the Carroll County delegation took action to tie the state’s attorney’s salary to that of a district court judge’s salary, which is currently $161,333 annually, according to Shoemaker. He noted a district court judge is not allowed to have a private practice while in the position.
“It makes sense to me if we are going to pay a state’s attorney what we pay a district court judge, then the same rules should apply to the state’s attorney …They should be devoting their full energy and attention to being state’s attorney and not be sidetracked by the day-to-day troubles of running an outside practice,” he said.
During a public comment period, Ellin pointed out that while Shoemaker has authority over the salary of the state’s attorney in his current position, “not once did he find it necessary to address the issue of private practice” until Ellin filed to run against him for the role.
“You are attempting to sabotage your competition through legislation … It’s an assault on our constitution and capitalism itself,” Ellin said. “If someone wants to work full time for the citizens of Carroll County and also maintain a private practice without conflict, who are you to say no?”
Shoemaker responded by asking, “Are you saying that $161,000 isn’t enough?”
Ellin said he believes the state’s attorney position should require prosecutorial experience, which the delegate lacks.
Shoemaker said that he plans to close his legal practice on Main Street in Hampstead if elected to the position of state’s attorney. On Friday, Ellin said if he was elected, he would want to keep his 12-employee office open, but he would not be active in the private practice so he could be “100% dedicated to the citizens of Carroll County.”
Shoemaker said “theoretically” Ellin could have someone take over his practice and keep his employees employed but “the bottom line is someone getting paid with taxpayer dollars ought to be devoting their full attention to the safety of Carroll County citizens.”
He insisted if Ellin maintains his private practice while in the state’s attorney position, there is a possibility of encountering a conflict of interest.
“What would happen if someone charged with a crime went to his office for a personal injury claim?” Shoemaker asked. “What if an existing personal injury client got charged with a crime in Carroll? Wouldn’t that cause a conflict?”
During the hearing, Del. April Rose, R-District 5, said, “A display of that kind of partisan behavior I don’t think is appropriate at a public hearing so I’m a little disappointed in that process.”
Sen. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican, said he didn’t think the proposed bill was controversial and the delegation would decide whether to move forward with it or not after more discussion and public input.
Other proposed legislation discussed at the meeting included: raising county commissioner salaries from $45,000 to $50,000 annually; raising school board member salaries from $8,000 to $12,000 annually ($13,000 for the board chair); a law which requires background checks for anybody interfacing or working with the county; and several legislative bond initiatives.