Three Baltimore prosecutors elected as state's attorneys in suburban counties

Three veterans from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office were elected Tuesday as top prosecutors in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties.

Democrat Anne Colt Leitess, who supervised the office’s Special Victims Unit, focusing on cases involving child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, returns to Anne Arundel County, where she beat Republican incumbent Wes Adams.

Democrat Rich Gibson, a supervisor with the Major Investigations Unit, which focused on prosecuting violent repeat offenders and criminal organizations, was elected as Howard County’s next top prosecutor.

And Harford County’s new state’s attorney is Albert Peisinger, a Republican who spent 21 years in the city state’s attorney’s office before leaving to campaign in 2016.

All three honed their skills prosecuting cases in Baltimore, which Leitess called “a training ground for a good chunk of the attorneys.”

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who was re-elected in the June primary, praised the attorneys’ work.

“Their individual successes and victories last night is a testament to the talent embodied in our office. They will be amazing leaders in their respective jurisdictions, and I look forward to working with each of them to effectively convict violent offenders and reduce crime throughout Maryland,” she said in a statement.

Leitess came to Baltimore after she lost to Adams in 2014. She had served a short stint as Anne Arundel’s state’s attorney when she was appointed to the post by a panel of judges in 2013 after Frank Weathersbee retired.

“I know a lot of people who worked in Baltimore City, a huge number of alumni,” Leitess said.

The city state’s attorney’s office, which handles hundreds of cases each year, gives many young attorneys courtroom experience, which they wouldn’t get starting out at large law firms, Leitess said. Though she was a veteran prosecutor when she came to work for Mosby, she said she still learned a lot by taking on child and sexual assault cases, which she said she avoided in Anne Arundel County. Leitess said there were other prosecutors in Anne Arundel who pursued those cases, which she said were emotionally difficult and require different skills. Instead, she focused largely on homicide cases before coming to the city.

“I grew as a prosecutor, even though I had 25 years of experience,” she said of working in Baltimore. “It expanded what I could do.”

Leitess also supervised the city’s special victims unit. In 2015, members of the unit successfully prosecuted Nelson Bernard Clifford, a repeat sex offender who had previously won acquittals in four separate cases.

Leitess said the experience in Baltimore also helped her better understand how crimes affect families.

In Anne Arundel, Leitess hopes to work with other agencies to find ways to curb crime rather than just react to it.

“The old model of prosecution and policing was reactive,” she said. Now, more prosecutors around the country are looking for other solutions to crime.

Gibson, who lives in Ellicott City, prosecuted city homicide cases, and worked in the Firearms Investigation and Violence Enforcement Unit prosecuting attempted murder cases and handgun-related violations. In 2014, he ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Dario Broccolino. This year, with Broccolino retiring, Gibson defeated his deputy, Kim Yon Oldham, a Republican.

While in the city, Gibson helped prosecute a Black Guerrilla Family gang hitman accused of execution-style shootings in East Baltimore and who was sentenced to life in prison. It was part of a larger case brought by city police and prosecutors in 2013 against 48 BGF members and associates from the Barclay area.

Gibson, like Leitess, said he hopes to improve outreach efforts before defendants end up in court.

“I believe that the office is doing great work. I believe we could be much more proactive, not just as the back end,” but to prevent “people from committing crime in the first place,” Gibson said.

Engaging youth has been a priority for Mosby, who started the Junior State's Attorney and the Great Expectations programs, which encourage youth interested in law-enforcement careers.

Gibson said he wants to focus on rehabilitating young offenders so they do not end up in a cycle of committing crime. He also wants to find ways to prevent youths from using drugs, especially opioids.

With three experienced prosecutors leaving the city for the suburbs, Gibson said such turnover is to be expected at a larger office. Before joining the city in 2006, he worked for former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.

“The reality is that in large jurisdictions there is turnover. The people are leaving to pursue higher-level positions, or making significant moves,” he said.

Peisinger left the city in 2016 to campaign for the Harford job. He will replace Joseph Cassilly, who is retiring after serving nine terms. Peisinger, a Bel Air resident, worked most recently in the Baltimore office’s police integrity unit. During his campaign, he distanced himself from the Freddie Gray case, in which Mosby failed to secure a conviction after filing criminal charges against six city police officers involved in the arrest and death of Gray in 2015.

“I was concerned when I learned that charges were being filed before I believed that all the facts were gathered,” Peisinger said on his election website. But he also touted his experience in the city, including “high-level narcotics issues and organized crime” and “major investigations including complex wiretaps.”

In an interview with The Aegis, he said crime in Harford County and Baltimore is not that different. “The trend of the city-type crime is coming up here, and with my experience, I know I’m best for that,” Peisinger said. “I know what’s coming and I know how to keep it from getting worse.”

He could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The new prosecutors will take office in January. Mosby said her office is prepared for their “transition and succession.”

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Selene San Felice and Erika Butler contributed to this article.

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