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Sun endorsement: Frosh for attorney general

Attorney General Brian Frosh has long impressed us with his intellect, honesty and determination to do right by the people of Maryland. His successes in the last four years in protecting consumers, safeguarding the environment, furthering the cause of justice in our court system and promoting public safety give us great confidence in recommending him for a second term.

He faces the strongest Republican candidate Maryland has seen in at least a dozen years, Howard County attorney and Army veteran Craig Wolf. The former prosecutor, counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and long-time president and CEO of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America has wrapped his campaign around one central contention: that Mr. Frosh is spending too much time suing the Trump administration and not enough focusing on reducing the runaway rate of violent crime in Baltimore.

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Given that Mr. Frosh successfully lobbied the General Assembly to give him the authority to file a suit against the federal government whether the governor approves or not (a power the AG’s in nearly all other states already had) and that Baltimore ranked as the deadliest big city in America last year, it’s a fair question to ask.

But the reality of what’s going on in the AG’s office is far different from the picture Mr. Wolf paints. Yes, Mr. Frosh has gotten involved in a variety of litigation against the federal government on issues ranging from health care to the environment to constitutional questions about President Donald Trump’s business interests. But in most cases, that entails working with other state attorneys general who are leading those suits to provide additional filings related to Maryland’s particular interests in a case. Occasionally, Mr. Frosh has taken a leading role in such suits, but those are cases when Maryland’s interests are pre-eminent or the state has standing to sue that others may lack. That’s the case, for example, with the suit alleging that President Trump’s continued profits from his Washington, D.C., hotel violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause: Maryland can make an argument that foreign officials’ desire to patronize that hotel hurts Marylanders’ economic interests in a way that California, for example, cannot. Typically, Mr. Frosh’s office works with outside counsel on these cases to avoid diverting resources from other duties.

Mr. Wolf is right that Maryland’s attorney general should consider carefully whether the state has a particular need to get involved in any such case and whether it has a chance of success, but his skepticism is so deep that he could not even say that he would necessarily have agreed to take action in a clean air case that Gov. Larry Hogan specifically asked Mr. Frosh to file. We agree that the attorney general should not take it upon himself to become a leader in “the resistance” to President Trump and should instead focus his efforts on protecting the interests of the people of the state. Mr. Frosh must remain mindful of that principle, but so far he has stayed on the right side of the line.

We do, however, agree with Mr. Wolf that Mr. Frosh needs to do a much better job of posting information about these suits on his website. Other than on the emoluments case, it’s difficult if not impossible to find briefs or updates on the status of the various litigation against the federal government that Maryland has joined.

As for violence in Baltimore, prosecuting street crime is the purview of local state’s attorneys. Complex cases against large criminal enterprises are generally the responsibility of the U.S. attorney's office. The Maryland attorney general handles criminal appeals in state courts, but that has typically been the extent of its involvement. The irony of Mr. Wolf’s complaint about Mr. Frosh’s priorities is that Mr. Frosh has actually pushed his office into a larger role in criminal prosecution than it has had before through his creation of an organized crime unit. It does not and should not supplant the efforts of locally elected prosecutors, but it has proved effective in bringing cases against drug traffickers, pill mill operators and other dangerous criminals.

Meanwhile, Mr. Frosh’s office has served the state well in its traditional duties. It secured more than $200 million in settlements and fines from Volkswagen over its emissions scandal; recovered hundreds of millions for Maryland consumers from predatory lenders, protected Maryland’s share of the tobacco settlement and it went after nursing homes that were mistreating patients. And his advocacy has led to a sea change in the way Maryland handles pre-trial detainees. He persuaded the Court of Appeals to adopt new rules affirming the principle that the decision to keep someone in jail before trial is based on whether they are a danger to the community or likely to skip their court date, not whether they are able to pay an arbitrary amount in bail. It is a fairer system, more effective in meeting the state's goals for public safety and, as a bonus, less costly to taxpayers. Mr. Wolf opposes it.

Mr. Frosh ran on a promise to be the people’s lawyer, and he has been. We enthusiastically endorse him for re-election.

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