Angela Alsobrooks: Our choice for Prince George's state's attorney

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

PRINCE GEORGE'S County prosecutors have botched an embarrassing number of high-profile cases in recent years. In a particularly mortifying one two years ago, the jury in a first-degree murder trial aquitted a defendant who acted as his own attorney. Still, given the office's rock-bottom salaries, severe shortage of lawyers and crushing caseloads, it's a wonder that prosecutors haven't fumbled more often. Credit Glenn Ivey, the level-headed state's attorney in Prince George's for the past eight years, with doing a fair job under daunting conditions.

Mr. Ivey's planned departure has triggered a scramble to succeed him among five candidates in the Democratic primary on Sept. 14. The winner will oversee 75 prosecutors and thousands of criminal cases each year. (No Republicans are seeking the job.) The best of the bunch is Angela Alsobrooks, who combines prosecutorial experience, management skill, intellectual agility and deft political instincts. She will need all that to improve a struggling office.

Ms. Alsobrooks, a Prince George's native, has been executive director of the Prince George's Revenue Authority for the past six years, meaning she runs an agency that oversees the county's parking meters and public parking lots, an $11 million annual enterprise. Before that, she worked in the county executive's office on education issues and, for five years, as a Prince George's prosecutor handling domestic violence cases and a range of serious felonies.

Smart, personable, direct and tough-minded, Ms. Alsobrooks would make a strong lobbyist for the state grants and increased county funding the prosecutor's office badly needs, and an effective advocate for outreach and intervention programs. She has a firm handle on the county's high rate of recidivism, domestic violence and gang activity, and a no-nonsense strategy to improve the quality and consistency of prosecutions.

Her rivals include Mark K. Spencer, the police department's inspector general and a former No. 2 in the state's attorney's office, and Joseph Wright, the current deputy director of the office's district court division. Both are respected prosecutors, but they lack the temperament and public relations skills to run an operation as complex as this one. Another candidate, Peggy Magee, a former prosecutor and the current clerk of the court, is a well-regarded manager, but her political savvy is questionable.

The fifth candidate, and by far the best-financed, is Thomas Dernoga, a term-limited member of the County Council. He is simply not qualified to be the state's attorney. Although he knows the county's budget and land-use laws well, Mr. Dernoga has never worked as a prosecutor, nor even as a criminal defense lawyer; in fact, he hasn't practiced law of any sort in almost a decade. Lacking that basic background and familiarity with criminal law, Mr. Dernoga has no business running a prosecutor's office in one of Maryland's biggest and most crime-ridden counties.

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