Anne Colt Leitess (D) |
Anne Arundel County State's Attorney
Unopposed in Primary
Why are you qualified to represent the people in your jurisdiction?
I'm a career prosecutor and Anne Arundel County is my home and the place where I dedicated 23 years of my legal career in seeking justice for victims of crime. The people and the families here deserve a State’s Attorney who is focused one hundred percent on their safety and improving their community, not on playing political games. I have the experience and values to do the job better for our families. In 2013, the Circuit Court Judges selected me, over both of my opponents, to serve the remainder of the retiring State’s Attorney’s term until 2015. I am running in 2018 to restore the office to one that is ethical and effective.
What are three goals you want to accomplish in the next four years to advance the rights of women and minorities in Maryland?
I currently manage a Special Victims Unit in Baltimore that represents survivors of domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse. I personally try these cases and have seen the impact these crimes have on families and know that the damage lasts a lifetime. The vast majority of these crimes are committed against women and children. I’ve testified before the Maryland legislature on the need for “other crimes” evidence to be allowed in court against serial rapists and child predators and the bill just passed this year. If elected, I will focus my office’s resources on prosecuting these crimes and seek justice on behalf of women, men and child victims of sexual and physical violence.
Recognizing racial bias, including implicit and systemic bias is an important training protocol for prosecutors and judges who are called upon every day to make decisions about criminal cases and sentence recommendations. Recently, I attended a program hosted by the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association on avoiding racial bias in our profession. The training was a valuable starting point and I would expand upon it to ensure that my staff’s interactions with the public, victims, witnesses and defendants are fair and impartial. The criminal justice system must face the reality of racial bias head on and recognize its impact on our communities.
The prevalence of opioids and other highly dangerous drugs continues to be an issue in our county. I would continue to prosecute the dealers for selling drugs. However, I also believe that the State’s Attorney’s Office can do a better job in advocating for county resources to divert non-violent offenders to treatment and rehabilitation programs rather than jail sentences. Much of our criminal activity in the county is a direct result of substance abuse and mental health issues that must be addressed with either in-patient or community-based treatment and rehabilitation. During the FY 2108 county budget, the health department reported a loss of $2.4 million in grants and one addictions specialist from its employees. I would work to increase grant funding to help those addicted receive the opportunity to change their lives and dedicate a portion of the State’s Attorney’s Office budget to support counseling and rehabilitation.
What are the three most important issues on which you want to effect change? What will be your strategy for achieving these changes?
The current State’s Attorney ended several important programs which are integral to effective prosecution in Anne Arundel County. First, he stopped formally training his prosecutors, instead allowing them to “sink or swim” which resulted in a huge number of cases being dropped in the district courts every month, the disastrous loss of two murder trials and the botching of the Crofton noose trial by failing to list the name of the victim of the hate crime in the charging document.
In addition, he abandoned the collaborative work of the gang task force (GRIP) when he fired its leader on his first day in office as the attorney was poised to prosecute the “Craigslist Killer” the next week. He stopped sending prosecutors to this group of community and governmental leaders that met monthly to share human intelligence of suspected gang activity in Anne Arundel County. One example of the group’s impact was that upon learning from the Parks and Recreation staff that gang graffiti was appearing in local parks, it was agreed that the police would increase patrols and reach out to vulnerable neighborhoods to show their support and commitment to preventing gang activity from taking hold. While statistics and “data sharing” are important, I believe that face to face communication with our partners is extremely effective in responding to community issues.
The City of Annapolis saw an increase in crime last year that was startling. In response, the Annapolis Police Department focused on community policing and it appears to be working. I support a prosecution model in the State’s Attorney’s Office that provides dedicated prosecutors who meet with law enforcement and the community to address the crimes that are happening in their neighborhoods--a program I had in place in Annapolis during my tenure.
What have you learned about yourself or the political process since you became a candidate or have been an elected official?
Having served in leadership in the State’s Attorney’s Office for many years, I learned the importance of putting the rule of law and ethics above all else and used that as my guidepost. There will always be criticism of various decisions the State’s Attorney makes about a particular case, but I learned long ago that as long as I follow the rules, the ultimate outcome will be fair and just.
Specifically, how will you keep your constituents informed about the issues facing the county and the state?
I expanded a community outreach program in the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2013 which provided information to the public on topics such as teen dating violence, exploitation of seniors, internet safety and the opioid crisis. My staff and I presented dozens of programs to educate the public and hopefully give them information to prevent them from becoming victims of crime. I am also very proud that I moved the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office into the 21st century when I invested in a professional website for citizens to learn about the office and its programs and it is currently used by the office today. We provided frequent press releases, tweeted information about important cases and employed a dedicated communications director to interact with the press, media and citizens who sought information. I always spoke to the press, whereas the current State’s Attorney either refuses to respond to many press inquiries or chooses to communicate only in writing and through a spokeswoman.