Jessamy challenger Bernstein makes his case
Like the former federal prosecutor that he is, Gregg Bernstein today launched his campaign for Baltimore City State’s Attorney by building a case against the incumbent, Patricia C. Jessamy.
Bernstein announced his candidacy just east of 26th and Calvert streets, the site of a murder in March in which he said both the victim and alleged shooter each previously had been charged with multiple homicide and gun charges, and yet both had been freed back to the streets.
“They were allowed to walk out of the courtroom,” Bernstein said. “If the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City had done her job … I would not be here today.”
Bernstein said the State’s Attorney’s Office under Jessamy, who has been the city’s chief prosecutor for the past 15 years, has the lowest conviction rate in the state. He said half the people charged with murder and 53 percent of those charged with felony gun crimes were not convicted. Further, he said, 80 percent of domestic violence cases were effectively dismissed.
“I know I can do better,” said Bernstein, who spoke with his wife, Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, and two sons at his side.
“I know my way around a courtroom,” said Bernstein, who has 30 years of trial experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney, “a place the current State’s Attorney has not been seen since she took office.”
Jessamy dismissed Bernstein’s use of conviction rates as “old school, living in the past,” and said that “hundreds” of defendants are convicted instead in federal court as a result of her office’s cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s prosecutors. She touted her record as one of innovative leadership, saying she was the first to focus on guns and gangs.
She said she did not know where Bernstein got his statistics on conviction rates for various crimes and as a result would not respond to them. She did, however, say that there were “glaring inaccuracies” in what Bernstein said today, noting that at least in the case of Donatello Fenner, what he had been charged with previously was attempted murder, not murder.
Fenner, 22, who was shot to death near where Bernstein made his campaign announcement, was said to be a high-ranking member of the Young Gorilla Family gang and charged in connection with what police called a gang-sanctioned hit in May 2008. She mentioned two instances where cases against Fenner were dropped, once because a larger investigation was involved and another time because a witness could not be located.
“Yes this is a tragedy, but definitely not of the State’s Attorney’s making,” she said.