No matter who is elected in November, the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office stands to undergo significant changes with its first new leader since 1982 when Joseph I. Cassilly was first elected.
Republican Albert Peisinger and Democrat Carlos Taylor each have plans for the office if elected Nov. 6, plans that are more pro-active than reactive, they said, as they battle to succeed Cassilly who is retiring.
Peisinger, a former prosecutor in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, won the June 26 primary over challengers David Ryden, Lisa Marts and Steven Trostle. Ryden, a Harford deputy state’s attorney, had the backing of Cassilly, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and the Harford County Deputy Sheriff’s Union.
Taylor faced no opposition in the primary.
A lifelong Harford County resident, Taylor said his message and his background are resonating with voters.
“They appreciate I’m the only native son. My parents died in Harford County. I was born in Harford County and God willing, I’ll die in Harford County,” Taylor, an Edgewood High School graduate and Abingdon resident, who is a private defense lawyer, said. “They appreciate the fact that I talk to them every opportunity I get.”
Peisinger has lived in Harford County for two decades, and wants to bring a modern approach to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
“I love Harford County and having my boys grow up in the county, want to help the community my boys are growing up in,” Peisinger said.
Peisinger has been married to his wife, Christa, for 20 years. They have two sons, Nathan, 13, and Lucas, 11, who are in eighth and sixth grades at Patterson Mill Middle School. He coaches them in soccer and baseball.
The Bel Air resident spent nearly 21 years in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office before retiring in October 2016 to run for Harford’s top prosecutor’s position.
“I think people need to take a look at experience, and when you look at that office, you need prosecutorial experience to run that office,” Peisinger said. “I’ve been a prosecutor my entire life. I don’t believe Mr. Taylor has ever prosecuted a case. I think that’s a big difference.”
If elected, he wants to make the State’s Attorney’s Office more proactive.
“I want to be involved in the community, understand the needs, each community’s problems,” Peisinger, 46, said. “You have a diverse community in Harford County, each with different issues they’re facing in the criminal justice system.”
He wants to work with business owners, homeowners and bring all law enforcement together to “discuss things on the front side.”
“What the problems are, who created them and how can we solve them?” he asked. “It’s better than just arrest and prosecute. We hope we can prevent a lot more crime and make the community safer.”
Violent crimes, nuisance crimes, the opioid crisis — the only way to reverse them is to get the whole community behind it, Peisinger said.
Different groups are doing a lot of talking and working hard, doing a lot of things and putting their best feet forward. But someone needs to “take a 110 percent lead” in bringing everyone together to get best practices. Peisinger’s office is the one that can do that, he said.
“There really needs to be a person who knows all that, we can share that information, try to make those connections, get a network of professionals helping,” Peisinger said.
Drug recovery has different avenues and they’re not open to everyone, Peisinger said.
While a person who committed a crime needs to be punished, he said, jail might not be the answer for some people.
“It doesn’t necessarily help the recovery process,” he said.
“What can be helpful is for everyone to sit down together and share best practices,” he said. “If this is not best for this person or not available for this person, what are other avenues? We’re trying to find that.”
He cited programs like the drug court in Harford County District Court. What if the drug court was expanded to Circuit Court, he asked.
“There really needs to be a person who knows all that, who can share that information, try to make those connections, with a network of professionals helping,” Peisinger said.
He wants to do that by having a prosecutor linked to each Harford County Council district “to understand what’s going on in that district,” he said.
Each one is going to be different, he said. He wants his prosecutors to talk to business owners, law enforcement, clergy and ask what’s going on.
“If everything is great, we’d like to know that. What’s not great and how can we help,” he said. “We want to make really well-informed decisions so each case is not looked at in a vacuum. When you get that knowledge, you can do so much with it.”
He wants his office to work more closely with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, to track trends in crime. Rather than be handed case after case after case to prosecute, he wants his assistant state’s attorneys to look at cases together, as a group and see if they can spot those trends.
“If we share that information, we’ll get better cases together and be better prepared on the front end,” Peisinger said. “Targeting drugs dealers in Harford County, gangs in Harford County, that’s when it becomes really fruitful because the prosecutor knows the case from day one and knows everything law enforcement knows. It’s a big help going forward.”
Integrity is one of the most important qualities in a candidate and as a state’s attorney.
“In the legal community, your reputation and your word is everything. When you say something, it should mean something,” Peisinger said. “I’ve never been questioned.”
Peisinger retired from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office to run his primary campaign full-time. Nothing has changed for the general election.
“I’m taking this race just as seriously as the first one,” Peisinger said. “I’m not taking anything for granted just because I won the Republican primary.”
He wasn’t running against anyone, he said, he was running for the position, and the general election is no different.
Peisinger is fundraising and getting the word out to as many people as he can about who he is, what he stands for, his integrity and his experience.
“I’m getting the message out there and showing I’m the right person for bring Harford County to the next level in the State’s Attorney’s office,” he said.
Peisinger has been through two transitions of new state’s attorneys in Baltimore City and said he has the skills to transition Harford County’s office after one leader for the last 36 years.
“I can take the good from each transition and learn from the bad in those of how to ease everything,” Peisinger said.
He doesn’t plan to make any drastic changes immediately, he said. The office has prosecutors with institutional knowledge and support staff with more than 20 years of experience.
“Everybody brings to the table a lot of value,” Peisinger said. “You can’t replace that experience.”
The Democrat from Abingdon said he has found that his message about his background is resonating with a lot of Harford County residents.
Taylor’s mother was illiterate when she came to the United States, his father had a ninth-grade education; he had to drop out of school to support his siblings.
“I have been talking about that. People appreciate that kind of upbringing and the tenacity it takes to overcome certain obstacles and go to law school and be successful,” Taylor said.
Taylor has a blue collar and white collar background, which gives him a unique insight into the state’s attorney’s job and how crime should be addressed.
“I understand the pain that people face every day, the worries they face every day,” he said. “I have a wide spectrum to deal with people from a legal perspective as well as a human perspective to make sure that when we measure people, we measure them correctly.”
Taylor said he has shaken hands with 8,000 to 9,000 residents and they appreciate that he’s homegrown, he said, and that’s why he wants people to vote for him.
“What it really comes down to, are people going to pick the hometown favorite? I hope. Or are they going to pick an individual who says he is a successful state’s attorney from Baltimore City,” Taylor said. “I have no need to doubt him, but if you’re a successful person on a failing team, what does that say about the person?”
Baltimore is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, he said, so where does that leave Harford County?
Taylor said he can make a difference as state’s attorney because he’s connected to the county. There are individuals and family he wants to protect.
“And I can see that a lot of things trending now are protecting our community,” he said.
Cassilly, whom Taylor called a great war hero and great human being, has been slow in reacting to the opioid epidemic.
“He said it’s a problem the addicts have, not that pharmaceutical companies brought it on because of their greed,” Taylor said. “We can’t have another state’s attorney with a view like that because hundreds of people are going to die.”
Young men are killing each other in Harford County, he said, and “if we’re not careful, it’s going to get out of hand.”
Rather than react to those crimes, he wants to prevent them by identifying at-risk children and make sure they have things to do so they don’t become at-risk.
“There are things we can do to make sure things happen in the community,” Taylor said.
Taylor has heard from many voters that the State’s Attorney’s Office does not respond to victims’ needs a lot of times.
To prevent that, if elected, Taylor would have the State’s Attorney’s Office open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with someone who will respond within 24 hours to “make sure your grievances or concerns are heard about my office,” he said.
Taylor, a defense attorney, said many of his colleagues are concerned about how men are treated.
“Too many times someone’s bold allegation on the face will just be accepted without a lot of research,” he said. “They’re presumed guilty instead of presumed innocent. If that’s the case, it’s not abiding by the laws of the Constitution.”
Taylor is a believer in restorative justice, a program used in some other states, he said.
If a person commits a crime against another person, the State’s Attorney’s Office should talk to the victim, see what he or she wants. If a person’s home was broken into, the victim may want to ask why, “so the victim is made whole, they can understand why a person did what they did,” Taylor said.
“If the victim can be satisfied, the process of dealing with the crime could be a little better,” he said. “Maybe the person isn’t a bad person, but if they work toward making the victim whole and showing they are truly remorseful, they can avoid giving a first-time offender a record, if the victim is truly satisfied.”
Taylor said he thinks he’s the right person for the job.
“Harford needs a break from the Cassilly years and this very conservative that wants to come in,” Taylor said. “Harford County is going to grow, because it’s an ideal place for an individual to come. Folks from Baltimore City are going to come. We have to understand that. So we have to be flexible enough to allow for the county to grow and not be too restrictive and at the same time we have to make the county safe.”