Two former prosecutors, one now in private practice and the other a businesswoman, will square off in the Republican primary for Howard County state's attorney.
In the Sept. 13 primary, Ellicott City lawyer Joseph Fleischmann II faces Marna Lynn McLendon, who operates a cafe and book shop with her husband in Ellicott City.
The winner of the primary will meet one of two Democratic candidates for state's attorney, Michael Allen Weal or Dario Joseph Broccolino, in November's general election to become the county's top law enforcement official. The office has a 55-member staff.
Veteran state's attorney, Democrat William R. Hymes, is not seeking re-election after 16 years.
Michael Grasso, president of the county Republican Club, said he is pleased with both GOP candidates, whom he described as experienced lawyers. The club does not endorse candidates.
Mr. Grasso said he believes a Republican has a good chance of winning the race in the general election because there is no incumbent and the party has a strong slate of local and state candidates.
"We have some real choices this year," Mr. Grasso said.
Both candidates have said they would limit plea agreements, target repeat offenders and strengthen ties to the public.
One key difference is how they would provide services to victims and witnesses. Ms. McLendon wants to beef up the services, while Mr. Fleischmann wants prosecutors to handle many of the duties.
Both candidates have led unsuccessful bids for state's attorney in previous elections. Ms. McLendon, 43, lost to Mr. Hymes in the 1986 general election. Mr. Fleischmann, 51, came up short in the 1982 and 1990 primaries.
Mr. Fleischmann, a former prosecutor in Baltimore and Howard County, noted that Ms. McLendon hasn't carried an active caseload since she left a job as a private lawyer in 1988.
Ms. McLendon's last job was with the county's Office of Law, where she was a senior assistant solicitor advising the county Police Department. She left the position after six years in February to campaign for state's attorney.
"I'm an old-fashioned prosecutor who wants to get back into prosecution," said Mr. Fleischmann, a lawyer in private practice who handles mostly civil matters.
But Ms. McLendon, a former police officer who also worked as an assistant state's attorney in Howard and Baltimore counties, noted Mr. Fleischmann has not prosecuted a case in at least 15 years.
"He's been out of touch for a long time," she said.
The following is a comparison of where the candidates stand on
The state's attorney's office now has two advocates in Circuit Court and a legal aide in District Court assisting victims and witnesses in criminal cases. The advocates update victims and witnesses on cases, prepare them to testify and often provide emotional support to help them cope with a crime that may have been a traumatic experience.
Mr. Fleischmann believes these advocates are not needed, saying prosecutors should have direct ties to the victims and witnesses in their cases. He said victims and witnesses should get extra assistance only in cases involving serious crimes, such as rape and murder.
"You don't need a buffer zone between a trial lawyer and a witness," he said.
But Ms. McLendon said she would consider expanding victim-witness services, particularly in District Court.
She said an advocate should be assigned to domestic violence cases. Ms. McLendon noted that in many such cases victims get frightened and decide against pursuing criminal charges.
Both candidates said they would want suggestions from the public on how the state's attorney should address crime.
Ms. McLendon would start several programs to increase the office's accountability and visibility.
The candidate said she would publish regular reports -- listing criminal charges, the verdicts and the imposed sentence -- so residents can monitor the outcome of cases.
In addition, Ms. McLendon said she would establish a program, called community prosecution, in which prosecutors would be assigned to specific areas in the county to serve as a liaison between residents and her administration.
Prosecutors would meet regularly with residents to make sure neighborhood concerns are addressed by police and the state's attorney's office, Ms. McLendon said.
The candidate added that she expects the program would focus on schools. She said a similar program in Massachusetts is designed so prosecutors can work with teachers and police to spot troubled youths and get them help before they commit crimes.
"This is a novel approach," Ms. McLendon said. "We have to try. If it doesn't work, at least we tried."
Meanwhile, Mr. Fleischmann said he would have regular meetings so residents could address crime and the way the office handles it.
Mr. Fleischmann said he would want the office to have an open-door policy to enable the public and victims to give input on prosecuting certain cases and sentencings.
Crime and justice
Ms. McLendon said she would develop guidelines to establish how prosecutors should treat specific crimes so all cases are treated fairly and consistently.
Those guidelines would say how plea bargains are handled, she said. In an armed robbery case, for example, prosecutors would accept pleas on robbery charges and weapons violations, which usually carry mandatory sentences.
Ms. McLendon noted that she found at least 28 armed robbery cases last year in which the defendants pleaded guilty to robbery but were cleared of weapons violations.
The candidate added that she would limit pleas for repeat offenders. "These are the people who need to be targeted because they are the ones who are going to hurt us the most," Ms. McLendon said.
Mr. Fleischmann also said he would be tough on such offenders.
He added that plea agreements would be limited. He said he prefers to go to trial in an effort to get stiff sentences by showing judges the severity of a criminal's actions through testimony.
Mr. Fleischmann said he would lead the state's attorney's office by example, carrying a caseload bringing him into court on a regular basis.
"How can you support a trial lawyer without going to trial yourself?" said Mr. Fleischmann, who noted that state's attorneys in other Maryland counties regularly handle cases.
The candidate said he would spend little time on administrative duties, trying to avoid the "micromanagement" style used now in the office. He added that experienced prosecutors would be given the authority to decide what outcomes to pursue for their cases.
If elected, he said he and a deputy would be the only supervisors in the office. There are at least four supervisors now.
Mr. Fleischmann said prosecutors would be divided into teams whose members would help one another on cases. Prosecutors would rotate between District Court and Circuit Court so that all get trial experience, he said.
Prosecutors also would be assigned to cases early to make sure that appropriate charges are filed and sufficient bail set, Mr. Fleischmann said.
Ms. McLendon said she also wants to be active in the courtroom. But she said she would not prosecute long, complicated cases that would take time away from her other duties.
She said she also would expect the deputy state's attorney and other supervisors to regularly handle cases. She said she would give the office's supervisors and prosecutors permission to handle cases as they saw fit once her guidelines were set.