Longtime prosecutor has defendants' respect

MARSHALL SHURE never ran for office and he never was host of a television show, but the man can't stand 15 minutes in a public place in South Baltimore - Cross Street Market, for instance - without some aging delinquent recognizing him as an important figure from the distant or immediate past. Prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, petty burglars, car thieves, sex fiends, purse snatchers, shoplifters, even old glue-huffers - they all know the 6-foot-6 Shure, and many, surprisingly, regard him in a fond way.

"Mr. Marshall!" a scraggly man named Victor called out when he spotted Shure eating a sandwich in the market the other day. "You handled my case. I'm Victor. You remember me? I did all dumb stuff - loitering and [having an] open container [of alcoholic beverage in public]. All dumb stuff."


Shure nodded that he did, indeed, remember the dumb stuff. And he recalled seeing Victor in the Southern District Court. The Southern is where the tall and rumpled Shure labored, until his recent transfer to another city court, for most of the last 30 years. He prosecuted thousands of cases there - many of them while sitting on an old leatherette stool police officers obtained for him from a South Baltimore bar.

"Yeah, all dumb stuff, but you were fair with me," Victor continued. "Mr. Marshall, can you spare me a little change today?"


Shure, shrugging off a pang of concern that he might be contributing to Victor's future violations of the open-container law, handed him a dollar.

It happens like this a lot - one-time District Court defendants making chummy with Shure, as if he were an old schoolteacher with whom they bonded years ago during afternoon detention. Some will bend his ear about their problems, some ask for a handout, some ask for advice.

"Another guy I just ran into asked me about his upcoming case," said Shure, at 68 one of the longest-serving assistant state's attorneys in the city, if not the state. "He received two citations for drinking on the street. I tell him, 'Go inside your house and drink.' And he says, 'But I like to party with my friends.' And I tell him, 'Well, party all you want, but if you keep getting citations, you're going to wear out your welcome in court, and some day you're not going to get off with [a sentence of] five hours of community service - someone's going to send you to jail for 30 days!'"

What we have in Marshall Shure is a man who, having struggled through law school, found a public-service groove in criminal justice and stayed in it. He's been content to ride the lower-court criminal dockets, applying common sense and humanity, day after day, for nearly 30 years, without flash or fame (but with pretty much the same necktie).

Shure has probably spared the state of Maryland countless courtroom hours by expediting resolutions to neighborhood or sibling conflicts and by performing smart prosecutorial triage to separate serious cases from weak ones.

He's put a lot of people in jail over three decades - wife beaters, barroom brawlers, muggers.

But Shure has also helped countless drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill defendants by asking judges to get them the help he believed they deserved.

District Court Judge Barbara Baer Waxman, a former assistant state's attorney and one of 100 men and women who apprenticed as young prosecutors at Shure's side in the Southern, recalls several lunch-hour trips to Cross Street Market when one-time criminal defendants greeted Shure as their savior. "People come up to him and thank him for helping to turn their lives around," Waxman said. "Drug addicts thank him for helping them get treatment. A lot of people just thank him for being fair."


Sometimes, Waxman said, defendants look to Shure, officially their adversary, for advice on what to do when offered a deal. "To many people, it's Marshall's courtroom," Waxman said. "The judge is just ancillary."

But Shure's long run at the Southern ended a week ago. Someone decided, after all this time, that Shure needed a change of scenery, so he's prosecuting cases in the Northwestern District Court now. He might miss seeing a lot of old friends, cops and court personnel from the Southern. What he won't miss are the faces of repeat offenders - the ones who never seem to break out of their dreary lifestyles.

"That's the worst part - when I realize that the cycle hasn't been broken for so many people," says Shure. "I was starting to see [in court] the children of people I prosecuted 20 years ago."

Just last week, when he stepped into Cross Street Market, a man with his hands on a baby carriage recognized Shure and greeted him. Shure knew him to be one of the thousands of defendants from his long tenure in the Southern. "Look at my baby girl," the man said. "Just like me, you'll be seeing her [in court] when she's 18."

Shure didn't find the remark particularly amusing. "For God's sake," he said. "Don't wish that on her."