In the aftermath of the death of Jerry Barnes, Brian DeLeonardo was sworn in as interim Carroll County state's Attorney Monday, about a month prior to when he was scheduled to officially take office after having been elected in November.
Barnes, 66, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on Saturday, according to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the matter. No details of the investigation were available Monday, according to Capt. Richard Hart of the Sheriff's Office.
DeLeonardo, who had been scheduled to take office Jan. 5, was appointed by the judges of the Circuit Court for Carroll County Monday morning, according to a news release from the county.
Because all pending cases in the court were initiated under Barnes and the assistant state's attorneys served under him, a new state's attorney needed to be appointed and all other attorneys in the office sworn in anew before anyone had the authority to call cases, DeLeonardo said.
"You've got to have a state's attorney," he said. "It's a very, very difficult situation, but at the end of the day you still have to be prepared to prosecute cases."
DeLeonardo said right now he is focused on getting the office through the next couple of weeks and providing whatever support people need.
"It's a shock," he said. "It's difficult to get your head around."
Chief Deputy State's Attorney Allan Culver said he was not aware of all of the procedures for bringing in a new state's attorney because he has never been through the process before. He has spent his 13-year career at the State's Attorney's Office working for Barnes, who had been Carroll's chief prosecutor for the past 20 years.
"We were working up to the transition," Culver said.
Barnes had been open about having all current employees speak with DeLeonardo, and there were even plans to have him spend time in the office in early December to get a feel for the procedures, according to Culver.
"We had to be prepared for Jan. 5 just like it was another day in court," Culver said.
DeLeonardo said he will be sworn in again on Jan. 5 when his term as the elected state's attorney begins. DeLeonardo, a Republican, defeated Barnes with 54.3 percent of the vote in June's GOP primary election and ran uncontested in November's general election.
Since the election, DeLeonardo said he has been working to wrap up responsibilities at his private practice because he cannot represent clients while serving as state's attorney.
When he learned he could be sworn in as an interim state's attorney, DeLeonardo said he spent time over the weekend making sure his private cases were taken care of by other attorneys.
DeLeonardo said Culver and Deputy State's Attorney Edward Coyne have been a "tremendous help" in recent weeks and as he began planning the transition with the office.
Monday, DeLeonardo said he learned that the office's letterhead needed to be changed before any letters could be sent and he would have to re-sign cooperation agreements previously signed by Barnes. The Maryland State's Attorneys Association has provided assistance on such issues, DeLeonardo said.
The office will continue functioning as normally as possible for the time being, according to DeLeonardo.
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"I'm not making any sudden changes at this point," he said, adding that he expects members of the staff to continue operating in their current roles in the near future, but changes may come as Jan. 5 approaches.
"It's a tough situation," he said. "This is uncharted territory."
Culver said the office is doing everything possible to function as effectively as it has been.
"Even though we're all here at work, we're keeping the family and everyone in our prayers," Culver said.
Barnes graduated from Westminster High School in 1966 and joined the military in 1968, becoming a Green Beret a year later, according to his candidate profile in the Carroll County Times. He served in the Vietnam Special Forces Group from 1969 to 1970 in three camps near the Laotian border and was twice awarded the Bronze Star – awarded in recognition of heroic or meritorious achievement or service – before being honorably discharged in 1971.
Barnes began as a Carroll County assistant state's attorney in 1977, the year he passed the bar exam, and left the position in 1989. After working in Frederick County for several years, Barnes was elected Carroll County state's attorney in 1994.
Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.