Contrasts mark Democrats in state's attorney race

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Democratic primary for Howard County state's attorney is a race of contrasts between a self-described political outsider and a 17-year veteran with the county prosecutor's office.

Dario Joseph Broccolino, executive director of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association, will meet Michael Allen Weal, chief of the county state's attorney's District Court division, in the Sept. 13 primary.

The winner will face one of two Republicans -- Marna Lynn McLendon or Joseph Fleischmann II -- in November's general election in the race to become the county's top law-enforcement official.

State's Attorney William R. Hymes, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election after four four-year terms.

Mr. Weal was endorsed by the Columbia Democratic Club last month. The Ellicott City Democratic Club will vote to endorse a candidate Aug. 30.

George Layman, president of the Columbia club, said Mr. Weal's experience as a prosecutor and his involvement in Democratic programs made him the favored candidate among the group's 178 members.

"With his background, I think [the members] felt comfortable with him," Mr. Layman said. "Dario just came in late. I don't think most people know him."

Mr. Weal, who has been campaigning since June 1993, acknowledged that Mr. Broccolino's last-minute filing of candidacy papers with the county Board of Elections caught him off guard.

The 48-year-old Ellicott City resident said Mr. Broccolino's candidacy has caused him to shift resources budgeted for the general election to the primary.

Saying fund-raising is the "most distasteful thing of the whole process," Mr. Weal said he's planning a fund-raising event or a letter-writing campaign to get more contributions before the primary.

Mr. Weal, supported by about 80 volunteers, expects to spend about $40,000 on a campaign that includes cable television spots, newspaper advertisements and brochures.

Mr. Broccolino, calling himself the dark-horse candidate, said he will focus on visiting shopping centers and going door-to-door to meet voters. He also is planning some advertising and brochures.

A 50-year-old resident of Ellicott City, Mr. Broccolino said he doesn't plan to do much fund-raising. Instead, he will rely on loans and contributions from friends.

Mr. Weal has two prosecutors -- Michael Rexroad, chief of the office's Circuit Court division, and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell -- heading his campaign. They are to be Mr. Weal's deputies if he is elected.

Mr. Broccolino criticized Mr. Weal for injecting politics into the office by having prosecutors involved in his campaign.

"I just see no place for that within an active prosecutor's office," said Mr. Broccolino, who would prefer state's attorneys to be appointed like judges.

Mr. Weal said Mr. Rexroad, Ms. O'Donnell and other supporters on the office's 55-member staff do campaign work on their own time -- not county time.

He contends that Mr. Broccolino is too out of touch with Howard's criminal-justice system to manage the state's attorney's office.

He noted that Mr. Broccolino has never handled a case in the county.

"You just can't come in cold and be expected to operate things," Mr. Weal said. "He is so far removed."

Mr. Broccolino countered that his 17 years as a Baltimore prosecutor in murder, fraud and child abuse cases makes him the best candidate for state's attorney.

He questioned whether Mr. Weal will be adept at prosecuting felony cases in Circuit Court, noting that prosecutors in District Court don't handle jury trials or serious crimes.

Mr. Broccolino and Mr. Weal differ on numerous issues, ranging from how they would expand victim-witness assistance programs to how they would manage daily operations.

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On crime and justice, Mr. Broccolino said he wants to work with judges and defense attorneys to streamline the county's court systems so cases go to trial more quickly.

"We can't keep doing things the way we've been doing them," he said. "The state's attorney's office has to take the lead."

Prosecutors will review cases early to make sure there is enough evidence to proceed to trial, Mr. Broccolino said. He said cases that are too weak to prove in court will be dropped so they don't clog the system.

He said he intends to limit plea bargains and require that repeat offenders serve time in prison as part of their sentences.

Mr. Broccolino and Mr. Weal favor expanding the county's Diversion Program, which permits first-time drug and alcohol offenders to seek counseling to avoid prosecution. They say the program should encompass other minor offenses.

Mr. Weal vowed that, under his management, the office would aggressively prosecute cases involving violent crimes and repeat offenders.

"That's got to be the No. 1 aspect of anyone's administration," he said. "We're here to be aggressive. We're not going to give in. We're not going to give way."

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On community involvement, Mr. Broccolino said he wants to establish an advisory board -- made up of citizens, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers and judges -- to monitor the prosecutor's office.

The advisory board would meet monthly and serve as a forum for residents to voice their concerns about crime, Mr. Broccolino said.

Mr. Weal said he wants the office to have closer ties with the school system to combat juvenile crime. He added that he will write letters to community and business groups offering to meet with them to discuss crime.

He recently met managers at a North Laurel store to help them combat a rash of shoplifting. His office published a pamphlet outlining ways businesses can avoid accepting bad checks.

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Mr. Weal said he hopes to double the number of victim-witness advocates working in the office's Circuit Court and District Court divisions by reallocating money from other areas.

The office now has two advocates in Circuit Court and a legal aide in District Court, and they must select cases in which they will help victims and witnesses.

Mr. Weal said more advocates are needed because prosecutors don't have the time or training to explain the judicial system to witnesses or victims.

"I think this is one of the more important things a state's attorney's office can do," he said. "[Victims] need someone to hold their hand and take them through the criminal-justice system."

Mr. Broccolino agrees that victim-witness services are important, but doesn't think the state's attorney's office should provide them.

He would prefer to see an independent agency that would

combine the resources now used by the prosecutor's office and the county Police Department to assist victims and witnesses.

Mr. Broccolino said an independent office would better serve victims, particularly when they are unhappy with the way their cases are handled; now they must go to advocates who already work closely with prosecutors or police officers, he said.

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Mr. Weal said he does not plan to make many changes in the daily operations of the state's attorney's office. He said he intends to focus on administrative duties, although he may try some cases.

Some changes Mr. Weal does plan include expanding the role of the county grand jury to assist investigations and beefing up the office's juvenile division, possibly by adding a part-time prosecutor.

He said he wants to give the office a contemporary outlook. "It's not going to be business as usual," he said. "The last thing I am is a clone of Bill Hymes."

Mr. Broccolino said he intends to keep the management framework of one deputy and two top supervisors, although he will evaluate the structure to see if it can be improved.

He intends to try cases on a regular basis, probably by heading one of several specialized units he plans to establish.

Each unit would be made up of several prosecutors trained to fTC handle specific types of cases, such as violent crimes, drugs or fraud.

Prosecutors would be required to work some evening hours on a rotating schedule so citizens have better access to information on cases, Mr. Broccolino said.

Prosecutors also would rotate between the Circuit Court and District Court divisions.

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