Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger is making some changes — both procedurally and with personnel — to the office he’s been in for about a month.
“We want to get to effective, efficient, smart prosecution,” Peisinger said.
He wants one prosecutor to work on a case from beginning to end to eliminate victims and witnesses being bounced around. He also wants to keep felony prosecutors focused on their cases and misdemeanor prosecutors focused on theirs, to give state’s attorneys the chance to explore the types of crimes they want to prosecute and to allocate resources where they belong.
Peisinger, who lives in Bel Air, was elected Nov. 6 and sworn in Jan. 7 as the first new state’s attorney since 1982.
He comes from Baltimore City, where he served 21 years as a prosecutor, to Harford, where he is responsible for a staff of 74 and a budget of $6.25 million.
Some immediate changes were made by Peisinger and he is working on some others he hopes to implement in the next few months.
A month into the office, Peisinger is spending most of his time in meetings, working on the administrative end.
“That’s an adjustment for me. I come from a litigation background,” Peisinger said.
Eventually, he plans to start prosecuting cases.
“Once the office is running with the vision I have, our team has, then I’ll start picking up cases, probably where the need is necessary,” Peisinger said.
He’s brought on three key staff members, including two deputy state’s attorneys, MiaBeth Morosy, whom he worked with for 13 years in Baltimore City, and M. Teresa Garland, a former Harford assistant state’s attorney.
Also joining the office is Timothy Doory, a longtime prosecutor who became a district and circuit court judge in Baltimore City. In addition to trying cases, he will serve as a mentor to the younger prosecutors, Peisinger said.
Three assistant state’s attorneys and two administrative staff were asked to leave as Peisinger reorganized, “based on the vision I have for the office, moving forward in the office.”
“It was not a political move,” Peisinger said. “If you look around here, there are Dave [Ryden] supporters still in this office.”
Peisinger and Morosy, 43, were trial partners in Baltimore City for 13 years.
“She has a very strong narcotics and guns background,” Peisinger said. “She has an amazing ability to get scheduling done, creative ideas of how to schedule with tight challenges.”
Plus, he trusts her.
“She’s an amazing lawyer and great career prosecutor,” Peisinger said.
In the state’s attorney’s office, Morosy, who lives in Bel Air, will supervise a staff of 31 lawyers, including the misdemeanor division chief, Erin Valenti, a former prosecutor with Prince George’s County whom Peisinger hired, he said.
There, Morosy will work hand in hand with Larry Vencill, a legal assistant who supervises the administrative staff and has been with the Harford state’s attorney’s office for 26 years.
Garland, who left the state’s attorney’s office in 2003 to accept an appointment by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich as special secretary to the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Family, returns to the office as a deputy.
“She brings a great historical perspective to the office,” Peisinger said. “When you look at Terry’s career, she’s been rooted in Harford County a long time.”
She also worked with Circuit Court Judges Yolanda Curtin and M. Elizabeth Bowen in the state’s attorney’s office.
Because of her experience, Garland will be the liaison to Annapolis and to the bar association, and will be the primary supervisor at the Child Advocacy Center, which investigates and prosecutes sexual crimes against children.
“I’m excited to be back,” Garland, 57, of Bel Air, said. “It’s a really great opportunity to come back to the community I live and make some positive changes.”
Part of her role will be working with the bench to create efficiencies in moving cases along, she said.
“So cases aren’t lingering as long,” Garland said.
Doory is working for the state’s attorney in a contract position and brings more than 40 years of experience to the office.
He spent 21 years prosecuting violent crime in Baltimore City. He was a Baltimore City District Court judge for nine years then spent 11 as a Circuit Court judge. Doory, 69, retired early — mandatory retirement is 70 — from the bench to join Peisinger.
“Other offices are jealous we got him, he’s that valuable,” Peisinger said. “The amount of resource he brings for trial strategies, case preparation, he’ll be able to give a view from both sides of the bench, help educate prosecutors.”
Doory, who lives in Baltimore City, observed last month as Mark Meehan and Adam Bosse prosecuted 18-year-old Andrew Phillip Zaragoza, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Donna Zaragoza, 56, in July 2017.
“He was there to be a support and a resource, and [the attorneys] felt comfortable asking him questions,” Peisinger said. “His personality is so inviting.”
The nuts and bolts of the office is Beverly Fidler, 58, who has been with the Harford state’s attorney’s office for 26 years and is the chief of administration.
“She’s fantastic,” Peisinger said. “She worked for Joe for 26 years and she’s still working for me.”
Marosy, Garland and Fidler will each earn $110,000 a year; Doory will be paid $70,000, according to Peisinger.
One of the first things Peisinger is doing is eliminating district court and circuit court prosecutors and reassigning them as misdemeanor (13) and felony (nine) prosecutors.
“We’re trying to change the focus as we’re preparing cases, misdemeanors versus felonies, so that you’re keeping that mindset n the style of cases you’re preparing,” Peisinger said.
He also wants his attorneys to be able to prosecute more of a specific type of crime — white collar, drugs, guns. The office isn’t large enough to have specialized units, but attorneys who have an interest in a certain type can be given more of those cases, he said.
Prosecutors are now handling each case from start to finish, regardless of the court division it originates. Not only will it cut down on delays, it will allow victims to only have to tell their stories once, and they’ll build a relationship with that state’s attorney, Peisinger said.
The state’s attorney’s also are more easily accessible, able to be reached by direct calls instead of going through the switchboard.
“I don’t want people passed from the main desk to the district court, to somewhere else,” Peisinger said. “The community should be able to pick up the phone and dial the attorney handling their case directly.”
One of the efficiencies put into place is the grand jury scheduling. Instead of each prosecutor presenting to the grand jury at each session — the grand jury meets every other week, 26 times a year — one attorney presents all the cases, eliminating a lot of time spent waiting around, Peisinger said.
That change will get each prosecutor an extra week to be working on other assignments, he said.
“Everything is with the goal of effective, smart prosecution, and that is giving back time and resources to the prosecutors,” he said.
In the works
Sometimes cases can languish in the court system for months, if not years. Peisinger and his office are working with the judges and the Harford County Bar Association to work on resolving cases more quickly.
“We’re going to try to prioritize cases to resolve them faster and also, through my side, effective charging,” Peisinger said.
Three quarters of the cases in Harford’s circuit court are misdemeanors that have come up from the district court.
“That should be reversed, you should not have that much of a disparity. You have the circuit court bench hearing district court cases,” he said. “We are working with the district court and circuit court bench to come up with alternatives and new ideas to minimize the number of jury trial prayers.”
One of the platforms Peisinger ran on was assigning a prosecutor to each Harford County Council district, which he hopes to implement in two to three months.
“I’m looking for people who might want to do it,” he said.
That liaison would keep open the lines of communication, with the lawyer engaged in the community, working with business owners groups, clergy, residents, to “understand what’s going on in the community to bring back to our office to address those concerns.”
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“Knowledge is invaluable. We are public servants, which goes to effective prosecution. If some communities are having certain issues, I need to push resources to those areas for more effective prosecutions,” Peisinger said. “They work hand in hand with law enforcement. Law enforcement is one half of the process — they make the arrest. Once that’s completed, we do the prosecution. The more we work the front side, the more we understand it better.”