Beginning in December, the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office will have a new leader since the early 1980s.
After nine terms — 36 years — as the leading prosecutor, Joseph Cassilly will retire when his ninth term expires in December. Four people are running to take his spot.
Lisa Marts, Albert Peisinger, David Ryden and Steven Trostle are running on the Republican ballot. The winner of that primary race will face Democrat Carlos Taylor in the general election.
Ryden is a deputy state’s attorney for Harford County, a position he was sworn into in January. Marts, a former assistant state’s attorney in Harford, is a prosecutor in Baltimore City. Peisinger worked for 21 years in Baltimore City as a prosecutor with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office before retiring in 2016 to run his campaign. Trostle has been a prosecutor for 16 years and is the interim state’s attorney in Cecil County. Taylor is a criminal defense lawyer in Harford.
The winner of the race will assume an office with a budget of about $6 million and about 70 people – two deputy state’s attorneys, 28 assistant state’s attorneys and about 40 administrative staff members, Cassilly said.
When he started with the state’s attorney office, there were eight lawyers and eight to 10 clerical people, he said.
Lisa Marts has been a prosecutor for more than 23 years, 16 of them in Harford County.
She left the office last spring and went to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
“Morale was at an all-time low,” Marts said, adding eight prosecutors left before her and three have left since. “In an office of 30 prosecutors, that’s pretty big changes, a sign things weren’t going well.”
She’d like to change that, she said.
“I care about my job, I love my job. I was encouraged by others inside and outside the courthouse to run, so I decided to,” Marts, 51, said.
She said she enjoys being a mentor, helping younger attorneys starting their careers.
“I want to take that to the next level and make it an office Harford County can be proud of and count on that we’re doing the right thing,” she said.
A graduate of what is now Loyola University Maryland and the University of Baltimore School of Law, Marts has spent a significant portion of her career handling child and adult sex abuse cases.
“I’m a champion of children, that’s my life,” she said. “My passion is to help the most vulnerable.”
If elected, Marts wants to create open communication with victims. A victim of a drunken driving accident in Ocean City, Marts said she realized there has to be a better way to keep victims informed rather than sending letters. She would like to establish a new text/email alert system to notify victims and witnesses of updates in their cases.
She’d like to see tougher sentences and to work on establishing truth in sentencing laws, “so when a victim is told the defendant receives a 20-year sentence— it means a 20-year sentence.”
One of the hardest things to do as a child abuse prosecutor is to tell someone their abuser pleaded to 20 years in jail, but will be out in 10, she said.
The opioid crisis also needs to be addressed, she said. Many of her friends’ children have died of overdoses or gone to jail, and “it breaks my heart as a mom.” She believes there needs to be a “more holistic approach” with more treatment focusing on younger children.
But when an addict gets violent, they need to go to jail, she said.
“Sometimes I think that’s the only thing that will save them” she said. “When they’re hurting other people, that’s when I have to step in and be the bad guy. I have no problem doing that.”
Marts and her husband, Chris, a workman’s compensation and personal injury lawyer in Harford, have been married nearly 23 years and live in Darlington. They have a daughter, Ellie, 19, at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and a son, Charlie, 16, a sophomore at Harford Tech.
Except for about five months, Albert Peisinger, of Bel Air has always been a prosecutor with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
That experience will help him as the state’s attorney in Harford County, he said.
“The trend of the city-type crime is coming up here, and with my experience, I know I’m best for that,” Peisinger, 46, said. “I know what’s coming and I know how to keep it from getting worse.”
He began working in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office, where his mother worked in the sex offense unit, on Dec. 5, 1995.
He attended law school at Widener University at night and, after being admitted to the bar in 2001, began prosecuting cases right away.
After 18 months in Baltimore City District Court, Peisinger left the office to handle worker’s compensation defense cases.
After five months, he called then-city State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy and asked to come back.
“She said, ‘name the day,’” Peisinger said. “It clearly showed me what I wanted to do. I really enjoy being in the courtroom, trying the cases and I loved being a litigator. You really miss it when it’s gone. That’s why I went back.”
When he returned, Peisinger was elevated to the Circuit Court, where he prosecuted felony narcotics cases for 10 years, he said. When he came through the door, he was handed 274 open, active cases – mostly in narcotics and upper level drug dealing that were already set for trial.
He’s also worked with the major investigations division that include wiretap investigations and working closely with High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and its affiliated agencies like the DEA, ICE and Department of Justice, among others.
When Gregg Bernstein became state’s attorney in 2011, he tapped Peisinger to create a community prosecution unit.
“The philosophy was to have an engaged, rather than reactive, state’s attorney’s office — to have the state’s attorney actively involved in cases from day one,” Peisinger said.
If elected, Peisinger would like to create a similar unit in Harford County, assigning a state’s attorney to each County Council member, so each has a 24-hour, seven day-a-week resource for his or her constituents.
“Harford County is extremely diverse. Northern Harford versus Bel Air versus Route 40 versus the 95 corridor, they all have different issues they’re facing,” he said. “It allows a prosecutor to really take ownership of areas and learn the areas, learn the bad apples.”
Peisinger also spent brief periods in the public trust and police intelligence and crime strategies units before retiring in October 2016 to focus on his campaign.
Peisinger said he’s running this time because of the changes he’s seen in the 20 years he’s lived in Harford County.
“Unfortunately, the trend is not going in the right direction,” Peisinger said. “The experience I can bring can help. I want the community my children are growing up in to the best and safest it can be. I bring to the table what nobody else can,” including 15 years experience prosecuting narcotics cases.
“Narcotics drives organized crime and most crime everywhere; we can get a grip on it before it gets out of hand,” he said. “Quality-of-life crimes are up because of it, overdoses are off the charts. They can’t keep doubling every year.”
Peisinger said he has a strong approach when it comes to dealing with drug dealers.
“I plan to be every criminal’s worse nightmare, every drug dealer’s worse nightmare,” he said. “The cases we produce and walk into court with, we will dictate the terms and not them. That means high jail sentences for people selling drugs.”
Peisinger has been married to his wife, Crista, a strategic communications director for Aerotek, for nearly 20 years. They have two sons, Nathan, 13, a seventh-grader at Patterson Mill Middle, and Lucas, a fifth-grader at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary.
David Ryden has spent his career as a prosecutor, including 11 years in the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office working for Cassilly.
Ryden grew up in Catonsville, graduated from Woodlawn High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He earned a law degree from University of Richmond School of Law in 2003 and served as assistant commonwealth’s attorney, and acting commonwealth’s attorney for the city of Salem, Va., before coming to Harford in 2007.
“I have a history of being a partner with law enforcement agencies, first as a line prosecutor, then leading investigations, trying cases and now being in the administrative portion of the state’s attorney’s office,” Ryden said. “I think it would be a nature fit to go on to elected state’s attorney.”
If he’s elected, Ryden said his primary focus will be “to continue the legacy of Joe Cassilly,” who has been the “dean of state’s attorneys across the state” for the last 40 years.
“I want to continue with all the great legacies he started, like the Child Advocacy Center, the Narcotics Task Force and being a prosecutor’s prosecutor, being tough on crime,” Ryden said.
Ryden, 39, said he often jokes that he was barely out of diapers when Cassilly was elected to his first term. But that will allow him to bring fresh ideas and a younger perspective into the office, he said.
Almost all of the office’s $6 million budget is devoted to salaries and benefits, leaving little for anything else, Ryden said.
Things that were not important 10 to 15 years ago – most technology based – are becoming more and more so, he said, and the office needs to be able to keep up.
Digital records, body camera footage, a new case management software system and the state’s new online judicial program are all things the office will have to be able to handle.
Ryden has tried more than 50 jury trials.
Among his successful prosecutions include Tyrone Nordine, a known gang member in Aberdeen who was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison; and James Aaron Kimble, who assaulted a black off-duty Baltimore City detective in a racial incident and was sentenced to 25 years in jail.
He’s also lost cases, like the murder case against Garfield Smith in 2012. He was found not guilty of killing one person and wounding another in what Ryden argued was retaliation for a shooting 10 days earlier.
“I’ve tried cases and been unsuccessful, but for the most part we try them,” he said. “Like any prosecutor, you win and you lose, by my philosophy is, if you’re winning all your cases, you’re not trying enough cases.”
Prosecutors shouldn’t be afraid to try cases, he said, as long as they meet their ethical obligations.
“Certainly we encourage our attorneys to try cases and try different cases,” Ryden said. “That’s how you get to 50 jury trials in Harford County – that’s a lot of jury trials. You won’t find anyone else in my office who’s tried that many in that time period.”
Ryden has been endorsed by Cassilly and Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, he said.
“That’s two heads of law enforcement in the county are backing me and what I’m doing,” he said. “I think the people of Harford County should be aware of that and give that some respect.”
Ryden, who lives in Bel Air, is married to Caylin Ryden, the heroin coordinator and intelligence analyst for the Harford County Narcotics Task Force. They have three daughters, Tenley, 6, a kindergartener at Fountain Green Elementary, Harber, 4, and Wesley, five weeks old.
Steven Trostle ran unsuccessfully against Cassilly in 2014, garnering 23,854 votes to Cassilly’s 64,398.
“This time around, our county is preparing to elect its first new state’s attorney in nearly four decades,” Trostle, the interim state’s attorney in Cecil County, said. “I believe strongly our county would be best served by someone with my prosecution experience who also has my leadership qualities, supervisory experience, experience managing a county office and above all, unquestionable integrity. I want to bring my experience as Cecil state’s attorney to Harford County to strengthen the office from a 40-year-old administration.”
Trostle was named interim state’s attorney in Cecil after Edward Rollins III resigned after being found guilty in December 2016 of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct in Ocean City that summer.
He can not run for that office because he does not live in Cecil County.
Trostle, 46, grew up in Reisterstown and lives in Joppa.
He earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Community College of Baltimore County in 1991 and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, with a focus in legal ethics, from Salisbury University in 1994. He graduated from Western New England School of Law, one of two accredited law schools with residencies in prosecution, he said.
He was hired during his third year of law school by the Hamden County District Attorney’s Office in Springfield, Mass., and tried cases under the student practice rule. Once he graduated, he immediately began prosecuting cases full-time.
Trostle stayed with the office until 2003, when he and his wife moved back to be closer to their families as they started their own, he said.
He was hired by the Office of the State Prosecutor and spent three and a half years handling mostly government public corruption, and election law violations statewide before leaving at the end of 2007 to go into private practice for a few years.
“I had achieved what I wanted to achieve in private practice. I had walked in the shoes of the other side, expanded my horizon, learned to do things I hadn’t done prior,” Trostle said. “I had gotten a taste of it, enjoy it, but I am a public servant, I always have been. After two and a half years, it was time to go back to what I enjoy doing most and I believe I’m best at.”
He said he’s concerned as a voter and citizen of Harford County, about the transition of an office that’s been run by one person for 40 years.
“No other candidate has served as state’s attorney, has run a county office, has prepared and managed a budget, is not a member of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association and had not testified in front of the state legislature on criminal law bills,” he said.
If elected, Trostle said he would focus on two things: restoring and strengthening the relationship with the state’s attorney’s office and county police agencies.
Four years ago, the Harford County Deputy Sheriff’s Union endorsed him over Cassilly.
“As a candidate, I’m flattered. As a citizen of the county, it disturbs me that deputies lacked trust in the incumbent,” Trostle said.
The first thing he did to restore credibility in Cecil’s state’s attorney’s office was reach out to law enforcement and open the lines of communication. Today they have a strong bond, he said.
“The state’s attorney can’t exist without the cooperation of law enforcement and law enforcement can’t exist without the cooperation of the state’s attorney. They have to work hand in hand,” he said.
He also would start fighting the heroin epidemic.
“Most crimes are tried to the heroin epidemic,” he said.
Trostle is married to Kim, a paralegal with a private firm in Baltimore City. They have two children, Jonathan, 15, a student at Joppatowne High, and Megan, 13, a student at Magnolia Middle.
The lone Democrat on the primary ballot, Carlos Taylor will run against the winner of the Republican primary race.
A defense lawyer, the Abingdon resident has his own private practice, which he’s cut back on slightly over the last couple years.
He is running to address the heroin epidemic in Harford, he said.
“I see that how the state’s attorney’s office is handling the opioid epidemic just isn’t really up to par,” Taylor said. “Of course, as a defense attorney, I understand you have to put people in jail, but you also have to have a treatment side and if we don’t we will just keep incarcerating people and the problem is going to get worse.”
Taylor said his brother died several years ago of a heroin overdose.
“I want to see everyone doing their part to make sure our citizens aren’t dying of this addiction,” he said.
All government agencies have to work together, including schools, health care departments and mental health professionals, he said.
“There are more practical things a state’s attorney can do, and I just don’t see that happening right now,” Taylor said.
Of Filipino descent, Taylor said he would also like to see a more diverse state’s attorney’s office to make sure everyone is well-represented.
The youngest of eight siblings, Taylor, 58, was a journeyman electrician while he attended law school at night.
He chose to be a defense attorney because he believes in the Constitution, that it should protect people, including those who are charged with crimes, he said.
“That’s what defense attorneys are there for, to make sure an individual’s constitutional rights are protected and to make sure they get a fair fight,” Taylor said. “The idea of protecting people, the idea of effectuating justice, the idea of doing something good for the community – I’ve always loved that idea.”
Taylor said if elected he wants to make sure “the game is played fairly.
“I will play hard, but I will play as fairly as possible under the Constitution of the United States and laws of Maryland says,” he said. “That’s what I want to do and what I think I can do for Harford County if elected state’s attorney.”