Harford's next state's attorney [Editorial]

The Aegis

One thing is certain in the upcoming general election on Nov. 6, Harford County voters will choose a new state’s attorney for the first time in 36 years.

The retirement of State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly, who has been Harford’s chief prosecutor since 1983, will mean a generational change not only in the position itself, but also in the organization Cassilly has led for the past three-plus decades.

The State’s Attorney’s Office has grown in staffing and in complexity, as the county has grown and its criminal justice needs have had to keep up with the times. The office has served as a training ground for future defense and prosecuting attorneys and a number of judges, and its performance affects our residents’ daily lives in many ways. All the policing in the world won’t keep crime at bay, if the criminals aren’t prosecuted and properly punished, and the state’s attorney and the office are the important bridge between the police and courts, without which the criminal justice system wouldn’t function.

We’ll have more to say about the outgoing state’s attorney in the coming weeks as his final term winds down, but this week our focus is on his successor. We believe the county’s voters are fortunate that both general election candidates, Republican Albert Peisinger and Democrat Carlos Taylor, appear to be well qualified to succeed Cassilly, recognizing that each has different backgrounds and skill sets and philosophies about the position and the office.

Professionally, Peisinger has a background as a prosecutor, having worked in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office for two decades before retiring to concentrate on running this year for Harford’s top prosecutor post. He won a hard-fought, four-way primary election race that included three other lawyers with extensive experience as prosecutors.

Peisinger told The Aegis he wants to make the State’s Attorney’s Office more proactive by working closely with the community on problems such as violent crime, nuisance crimes and the opioid crisis, the latter which he made a focus of his primary campaign, saying the State’s Attorney’s Office needs to take a more active role in helping the community deal with it.

He also said he will have a prosecutor linked in to each of the six county council districts because each area of the county is different and has different concerns. He pledged to work more closely with the Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement to track crime trends that both police and prosectors need to concentrate on to protect the community.

Taylor, conversely, comes from a background as a defense attorney and in his recent interview with The Aegis emphasized his blue collar background and his longer ties to the community than his opponent. He, too, said the State’s Attorney’s Office needs to be more directly involved in combating the opioid crisis and the crime it breeds.

Taylor also said he believes the State’s Attorney Office needs to do more to respond to victims’ needs. He has proposed keeping the office open 24/7 and to have a staff member respond within 24 hours to “make sure your grievances or concerns are heard about my office.” He also said prosecutors will not just accept allegations against a person without doing their due diligence, remembering that a person is presumed innocent, not guilty.

There’s clearly a choice between the two candidates’ views and approaches. What we don’t know is how any of this will translate into the administrative skills also needed to run a contemporary county prosecutor’s office, something with which we believe Cassilly has excelled.

In the end, it comes down to which of the two between Peisinger and Taylor is, in the view of the voters, best equipped to confront and prosecute crime in our community and to lead the staff of deputy and assistant prosecutors who will take that fight into the courtrooms.

We believe both Peisinger and Taylor have the courtroom experience and the ability to do the job and do it well. We will leave it to the voters to decide which one’s philosophy best fits the needs of our Harford County community.

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avought@theaegis.com

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