Like many working mothers, Laura S. Kiessling divides her weekends among swim meets, football practices and volleyball games. But unlike most, she often gets calls from police looking to go over the facts of the county's latest homicide. Or perhaps they're calling to ask her whether an act of vandalism could be considered a hate crime.
As one of the county's two deputy state's attorneys, Kiessling is involved in some way with nearly every major criminal case. And as a 10-year veteran of a team of prosecutors who go after child abusers and sex offenders, she travels the state giving workshops on how to interview children. But it is her work prosecuting hate crimes that has garnered her an award.
At a reception scheduled at St. John's College this afternoon, Kiessling, 44, will be presented with a Fannie Lou Hamer Award recognizing her work in the county.
"She is passionate and she is committed to the notion that hate crimes are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law because she believes that prosecuting hate crimes is the best deterrent," said Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, which sponsors the awards. "I think people who come to her for help walk away believing that she is concerned about the allegations that have been made and is willing to pursue them, and that hasn't always been the case in Anne Arundel County."
Fannie Lou Hamer was a Mississippi sharecropper who was jailed and beaten by police when she tried to register to vote in 1962. She traveled around the country urging other blacks to register to vote, despite receiving death threats. Although she is not as well known as other civil rights leaders from the era, Americans of all colors benefit from her bravery, Snowden said. The purpose of the award is to recognize women who, like Hamer, are little-known heroes, he said.
Five other county women will be honored at today's awards ceremony, which is sponsored by the King committee, St. John's College and the state attorney's general office. Proceeds from the event will go toward the King memorial at Anne Arundel Community College.
Kiessling, a native of Silver Spring, came to the county in 1989, shortly after receiving her law degree from Catholic University. She clerked for a judge for two years and then started in the state's attorney's office.
In the mid-1990s, she joined the team of prosecutors who specialize in cases of child abuse and molestation, rape and other sexual offenses. She has worked on countless high-profile cases, including those of a Glen Burnie man convicted of killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter and a grandmother convicted of abducting her two grandsons from Millersville to Egypt.
Working with children who have been abused can be gut-wrenching, yet ultimately rewarding, Kiessling said.
"It's heart-breaking, but you also see these brave little kids, that something terrible happened to them, react in these amazing ways," she said.
Kiessling has headed the county's hate crimes prosecution unit since its inception in 2001.
Before the creation of the unit, civil rights leaders often complained that the county was not sensitive to hate crimes, Snowden said. The county sparked outrage in 2000, when vandals who placed a white hood and Confederate flags on a statue of Aris T. Allen, a former delegate and the first black person to seek statewide office in Maryland, were not convicted of a hate crime.
Kiessling said she personally reviews the facts in each potential hate crime in the county and works with police to determine if an offense can be classified as a hate crime.
"I've found her to be very sensitive and very passionate about the prosecution of hate crimes," said Snowden, who heads the attorney general's civil rights office. "There is a sense that she is a champion of the prosecution of hate crimes."
Kiessling and her husband, Trevor Kiessling, 50, who is also a county prosecutor, live in Edgewater with their children Madison, 11, and Trey, 9.