With a little more than a week until the election, at least this much is certain in the three-way race for state's attorney: The candidates have already raised a total of nearly $80,000 in their quest for the top prosecutor's job.
According to campaign finance reports filed Friday, Republican Jerry F. Barnes has a $39,300 war chest, dwarfing that of his Democratic opponent, Linda A. Holmes, who has slightly more than $9,200.
The incumbent -- and write-in candidate -- Thomas E. Hickman raised nearly $29,000.
As was the case early in the campaign, the candidates and those near to them or their families have kicked in the bulk of contributions.
For Mr. Barnes, a Frederick County drug prosecutor who began his career as a prosecutor in Mr. Hickman's office, his wife's family has contributed more than $9,000, while the candidate and his wife have given the campaign several thousand more. For Ms. Holmes, $5,000 of her campaign fund was a loan from her and her husband.
And for Mr. Hickman, more than $13,000 was taken from his Individual Retirement Accounts.
The three are spending the money on billboards, campaign signs and newspaper advertisements, hoping voters will take their messages to the polls Nov. 8 and deliver them to the prosecutor's office and its $70,000 paycheck.
The three have very different ideas of how the office, with a $1.3 million budget and more than 40 employees, should be run over the next four years, and, in interviews with The Sun in recent weeks, they spoke out about each other, the job and themselves.
When Jerry F. Barnes visits for a chat, be prepared to sit down for a long time.
He comes armed with awards, statistics, letters, newspaper clippings and complicated explanations, offering them as evidence that he should be Carroll's state's attorney.
"I believe I've done a good job over the years," the Republican nominee -- who beat his former boss, incumbent Thomas E. Hickman, by less than 2 percent of the primary vote -- said in a recent interview.
"I've gained a lot of insight. To be an effective state's attorney, you must be willing to set the example for the rest of your office."
He says in his nearly four years as Frederick County's top drug prosecutor, he has never lost a felony drug case nor had a drug case overturned on appeal. He credits himself with innovative drug interdiction techniques, and with introducing some anti drug-trafficking laws in the legislature.
But mostly, he makes a point of differentiating himself from Mr. Hickman and his five terms in office.
"With new direction and new guidance, those people can really begin to serve the public," Mr. Barnes says of Mr. Hickman's 40-person staff. "There's much more to being a prosecutor than managing your office or being in the courtroom. You need to constantly use new and better tools. That's very important."
Mr. Barnes has wanted to be Carroll's top prosecutor since 1989, when he decided to end his nearly 13-year association with Mr. Hickman and run against him as a Democrat. In an ugly, bitter and divisive campaign, Mr. Hickman beat Mr. Barnes by less than 2 percent of the vote in the general election.
Since losing that election, Mr. Barnes has been head of the Frederick County Narcotics Task Force. He says he enjoys prosecuting drug crimes, and, if elected, he will immediately assume the reins of Carroll's beleaguered drug task force.
He talks about Frederick's aggressive -- "but legal" -- war on drugs, one he wants to repeat in Carroll.
"We can wage an all-out offensive, using all of the skill, experience and resources we have. We are at the point where we have a chance to stem the tide. This is the point in time that we can take care of the drug distribution situation before it escalates out of control."
Inevitably, as he talks about drugs, Mr. Barnes refers to his record in Frederick. Despite his campaign claims, however, he does not have a perfect appellate record.
According to Frederick County court records, the conviction of a New York drug dealer accused of attempted murder was overturned last year. Mr. Barnes doesn't see the reversal as a "drug case," although as prosecutor, he told the jury trying the case about the defendant's involvement in the drug trade.
And, despite campaign rhetoric blasting easy plea bargains for drug defendants, Mr. Barnes -- by his own admission -- has secured plea deals that have resulted in misdemeanor convictions for cases originally charged as felonies.
Since losing the Republican primary, Mr. Hickman has accused Mr. Barnes of being in the pockets of Carroll defense attorneys.
According to campaign finance reports, local defense attorneys
do not make up the bulk of Mr. Barnes' nearly $40,000 war chest. The biggest contributors are the family of Mr. Barnes' wife, Carmen Amedori.
Mr. Barnes and other political observers have called Mr. Hickman's assertion that defense lawyers expect favors from him "absurd."
He becomes tense and frustrated with the notion that, if elected, he will replace Mr. Hickman's staff.
He stresses that some of Mr. Hickman's programs -- notably the office's victim-witness unit and its Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit -- will be expanded, not contracted.
Mr. Hickman's supporters and many on his staff have insisted that it is in just those areas that campaign contributions may be paid back in the form of jobs.
Among the most frequently heard names is Marcie S. Wogan, one of Mr. Barnes' biggest contributors and a former child-abuse prosecutor under Mr. Hickman. Ms. Wogan, now a Baltimore County attorney, is often seen with Mr. Barnes at campaign functions, and many in Mr. Hickman's camp have suggested that she might become the county's top child abuse prosecutor.
Not so, he says adamantly.
"I haven't promised any spots to anybody. To gain support by promising positions is violative of the law."
Mr. Barnes said he wants to bring his hard work, dedication and courtroom acumen to the job. And he would like to see many of Mr. Hickman's staffers remain on board, something many of them have said publicly they could not do.
"I would hope that everyone would stay and not just leave because they have to work for me," the candidate said. "I have to question their true motives. Is their obligation to the community or to a single person? I certainly have no plans of going into that office and destroying it."
Thomas E. Hickman
In case anybody was wondering, Tom Hickman really wants to remain Carroll's state's attorney.
So his Republican Party knocked him out of the primary? He'll ask the voters to write him in because, he insists, he's the best choice.
Neither of the other candidates, he says, has his experience. Neither is as strong on crime. And neither has a dedicated staff of attorneys and investigators who are campaigning virtually nonstop to make sure their boss keeps his job.
"I have proven I can do the job," Mr. Hickman said in a recent interview in his untidy office. "I have the vision to know where this office ought to go, and I can take it there. I've been tough before it was fashionable."
On his Republican opponent -- and one-time employee -- Jerry Barnes: "He's not a communicator, he's not a people person. He throws out a real red flag when he says he wants to take over drug prosecutions. There, you don't have to deal with citizens and victims."
On Linda Holmes, the Democratic newcomer who wants to be the county's top prosecutor: "She's never tried a criminal case. If someone in your family is murdered, who do you want in that courtroom?"
And on himself, elected five times to the office he seeks again: "We've managed, I've managed, to keep us in the forefront of fighting crime."
Mr. Hickman is clear on what he will continue to do if voters return him to the job for a sixth term. He will keep intact mostly praised programs that he developed: the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit, the office's battered spouse program and the Victim-Witness unit.
He will continue, he says, to be tough on drunken drivers, and will continue to offer the services of his ever-growing staff of office investigators to police departments throughout the county.
And, he says, he will continue to wage the war on drugs, albeit with a now-changed narcotics task force, an entity that has drawn much negative publicity over the past three years.
Defense lawyers and civil libertarians have questioned the task force's asset-seizure and forfeiture policies, and county politicians have blasted the prosecutor for the secrecy surrounding the drug group.
Once accountable only to Mr. Hickman and a board of directors, the task force is now directly accountable to county budget officials.
"Accountability is a key issue," says Ms. Holmes.
Over the years, Mr. Hickman has sometimes given the impression that the public needs to trust him and other law enforcement officials about some matters: the details of the task force's expenditures, the details of a concluded investigation.
And, in one example critics cite, sometimes in the details of his dealings with county officials.
More than two years ago, Mr. Hickman's much-lauded child abuse and sexual assault unit was formed. At the time, Mr. Hickman spent $20,000 on office furniture, supplies and equipment to get the unit up and running -- before asking county budget officials for approval.
Although the "loan" was ultimately approved, county auditors have continued to ask the prosecutor when it will be repaid.
"We are hoping during the next fiscal year to initiate some fund-raising activities to eliminate this debt," Mr. Hickman wrote to budget officials in July. In the same letter, he wrote that he is "negotiating with an individual target defendant for a resolution of a case against that person which would include, among its terms, a contribution to our 'CASA' fund in an amount that would eliminate this debt in toto."
Asked to explain the memo -- which Mr. Hickman intended to be confidential -- he said he couldn't, except to say that it refers to a long-term investigation involving other law-enforcement agencies.
Mr. Hickman insists that he has never misled the public, and that many people take situations out of context and judge him unfairly.
"Many people relate to me that ours is the best office to work with," he says. "I'm proud of what we've been able to do here."
And so are many of Mr. Hickman's supporters. His campaign finance reports are filled with donations from his staffers and from crime victims.
"They're there for you, he's there for you," said Latisha Blizzard, a victim of domestic violence who was among 30 crime victims who were at a Hickman rally this month. "Tom's a big advocate for victims. We need to keep him there."
Linda A. Holmes
Linda A. Holmes, the Democratic hopeful for Carroll state's attorney, readily acknowledges her lack of experience in a criminal courtroom.
"Ninety-five percent of what a state's attorney's supposed to do is outside of the court," Ms. Holmes said in a recent interview. "My ability to be an effective manager is far more relevant than how many hours I have spent in the courtroom. Hey, I get to hire those guys."
Ms. Holmes, a Westminster attorney, is battling two longtime prosecutors in her quest to become the county's top prosecutor. And both of them are hammering at the Democrat's lack of trial experience.
"[Ms.] Holmes has never tried a serious criminal case," Mr. Hickman said. "I've been a strong trial lawyer all of my career. I think it would be very foolish to pay someone for on-the-job training."
Mr. Barnes concurred: "We can't put crime on hold while somebody gains experience in criminal law."
Ms. Holmes disagrees.
"Eventually, I'll be there," she says of prosecuting a case before a jury. "Remember, Mr. Hickman had a lot less experience than I have when he first entered office."
Ms. Holmes fires off a rather lengthy list of accomplishments that, she insists, qualifies her to be state's attorney.
She's been a manager at Procter & Gamble Co., one of the nation's largest companies. She's been a staff attorney with the U.S. Department of Energy, where she successfully prosecuted large corporate polluters that ran afoul of regulatory law. And she spent several years as a civil defense attorney in Baltimore.
"What's most important is to run an office where nothing slips through the cracks," Ms. Holmes said. "Look, this ain't brain surgery. If the only issue here is who's got the most experience, then . . . let's go get Ara Crowe."
Mr. Crowe is a longtime assistant state's attorney from Baltimore who prosecuted the Jason Aaron DeLong double-homicide case this summer.
Ms. Holmes, a political newcomer who garnered more than 8,000 votes in her uncontested Democratic primary, doesn't plan any wholesale changes in the prosecutor's office.
She said she wouldn't make any staff changes for the first six months of her term, but there are several programs she would like to expand.
Ms. Holmes said she wants to expand the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit, reaffirm the office's commitment to the Rape Crisis Intervention Services and continue to boost the office's child support enforcement efforts.
She said she would also revamp the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force, a group of investigators overseen by Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III that has been plagued by a lengthy county audit, questions about property seizure practices and overturned convictions.
Ms. Holmes blames Mr. Hickman for much of the drug group's problems, saying he refused to divulge information during the audit and he was always reluctant to answer questions about the unit to the public.
"The office is about who can be accountable," she said. "This is not a fortress."
She said she would take an immediate look at how the office schedules trials, insisting that a James VanMetre III would not be repeated if she were elected.
(This month, Maryland's highest court declined to reinstate VanMetre's first-degree murder conviction because Mr. Hickman's office violated the state's trial-scheduling rule in his case.)
"Maybe he'd be serving time for murder" if somebody had been paying attention to the trial-scheduling rule, she said of VanMetre.
She said she also would put an emphasis on attorney training, so that her staff would know how -- and when -- to use such prosecutorial tools as repeat-offender statutes and would know the latest rules of evidence.
"Training and education is key," she said. "We're not an isolated rural hamlet anymore."
Ms. Holmes takes pains to mention her affection for Mr. Hickman and Mr. Barnes. Indeed, the three have similar views on the death penalty, gun control and drugs -- they will use the death penalty, they don't see the need for more gun laws and drugs are to be dealt with strongly.
But, she says, neither of her opponents is the person to lead the office for the next four years.
"I like both of these guys," she said. "Tom's sort of lost, and he views the job as his. Jerry thinks it's his turn.
"I think I'm in a position to do the job that needs to be done."