Shawn J. Soper
BERLIN – Experience has been a catch-word of sorts in the race for Worcester County State’s Attorney, with the incumbent touting his 25 years of prosecuting the most serious crimes in the county and the challenger drawing on endorsements from those on the front lines of crime in the community.
As anticipated, the campaigns being waged by incumbent State’s Attorney Joel Todd and challenger Beau Oglesby, currently a deputy state’s attorney in Caroline County, have accelerated as Election Day nears and one would expect nothing less between the familiar adversaries. Back in the 2006 election, the two were separated by a mere 14 votes when Todd emerged victorious.
Not surprisingly, the comparative experience level of the two candidates has become a focal point in their respective campaigns. Todd pointed out this week his two decades-plus as state’s attorney sets him apart from Oglesby, who has spent more than a decade as a prosecutor in three different Lower Shore counties.
“Absolutely, the thing that separates me from my opponent is that I have been prosecuting cases, in this office, for 25 years,” Todd said. “I’ve prosecuted everything from speeding tickets to dozens of murder cases, arson, child abuse, rape, sex offenses and countless drug offenses.”
Oglesby has spent much of his career as a prosecutor trying drug-related cases, according to Todd.
“Prosecuting drug offenses appears to be his claim to fame,” he said. “As far as I can tell, and I’ve searched, I don’t believe he has ever prosecuted a murder case. That’s not to say he hasn’t been involved in the prosecution of the murder, but I’m talking about a trial. I don’t think he has ever taken a murder case to trial.”
With four murder cases in Worcester County currently in various stages of the prosecution process, Todd said Oglesby is ill equipped to take over as state’s attorney in Worcester County at such a critical time.
“There are four pending homicide trials in Worcester County, all of which are scheduled for after the election,” he said. “He’s never tried a case in Worcester County. It would be extremely awkward to walk into this office and take on that right away. He doesn’t know the courtroom, he doesn’t know the judges and most importantly, he’s not experienced in victim cases. Clearly, my experience sets me apart.”
However, Oglesby disputed the “experience” factor, pointing out he is further along in his career than his opponent was when he was first elected.
“As far as the experience factor, how much is enough?” he said. “I have been a prosecutor for 13 years, which is more experience than the incumbent had when he took office 16 years ago.”
Oglesby also pointed out, as a means to discredit the experience factor, Todd allegedly offered him a position in the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s office following the close election in 2006.
“The incumbent offered me the position of deputy state’s attorney in January of 2007, so I find it strange that, with four years of additional experience and in the course of an election year, he now questions my experience and ability to manage an office,” he said. “I have worked in three different state’s attorney’s offices and implemented effective change in each of those offices. The incumbent has done things his way for 25 years. That’s 25 years of doing things only one way. Doing something for a long time doesn’t mean it is being done in the best way or by the best person.”
Todd has prosecuted numerous homicides and other violent crimes, and several victims and victim’s families have come out in recent days in support of the incumbent. In fact, as many as 400 crime victims have come out in support of Todd on a Facebook page dedicated to his campaign. For example, Debbie Ford, whose brother Joshua was murdered by Benjamin and Erica Sifrit in Ocean City in 2002, had this to say about the state’s attorney.
“Joel worked day and night to make sure that my family would have justice for the brutal murders committed by Benjamin and Erica Sifrit. Knowing that the people who committed this horrific crime will never hurt another family thanks to Joel’s help gets us through each day. I hope everyone will support Joel as I know he is the best man for this office,” she wrote.
For his part, Todd said he did not solicit the support of the crime victims, nor did he start the social network page, but he is gratified by their support nonetheless.
“It’s nice to know the people I’m working so hard to help are standing up behind me in this election,” he said. “I’m here to help them. I am the people’s attorney.”
Oglesby, however, discredited the campaign tactic, saying he would not consider soliciting the support from the victims of crime to forward his election effort.
“I believe the incumbent’s submission of endorsements made by crime victims is one example of the stark contrast between the incumbent’s campaign tactics and my campaign,” he said. “I respect the victims of all crimes and would never solicit support or endorsements from them for political purposes. The victims and their families have been traumatized enough without being put in the uncomfortable position of having to relive their ordeal for the political gain of an incumbent.”
Oglesby said there is an in-kind number of crime victims whose cases he has prosecuted that would come out in support of his campaign, but he would not solicit their affirmation.
“I could display the same support from families I have worked with over the past 13 years, but I do not think it is appropriate to ask victims and their families to participate in a political campaign or even a social network,” he said.
Instead, Oglesby likes to point out his apparent overwhelming support from the law enforcement community. The challenger has been formally endorsed by the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police along with the FOPs in Worcester County, Ocean City and Berlin, for example.
“The historic, unanimous law enforcement endorsements I have received verify my experience and ability to be state’s attorney,” said Oglesby. “These endorsements are from the men and women who interact with the state’s attorney’s office on a daily basis. They see how all of the cases are handled, not just the high profile ones. They know best the importance of a strong and effective state’s attorney.”
Todd, on the other hand, points out he has received the formal endorsements of Worcester County Sheriff Chuck Martin and Ocean Pines Police Chief and former Ocean City Police Chief Dave Massey.
“The thing to remember is that I’m an objective, independent attorney,” he said. “My client is the people of Worcester County, not the people of the police department. If the voters want an attorney for the police department, I’m not that person and they should not vote for me.”
Todd said while he works closely with law enforcement on prosecutions, by definition and by law, his first responsibility is the citizenry.
“Occasionally, and I should say very occasionally, I see a case differently than the police see it, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “If the constitution intended the state’s attorney to be the legal arm of law enforcement, then it would be called the police attorney. The reason the position is called state’s attorney is because it’s the attorney for the people of the state.”
Nonetheless, Oglesby points out his support from the police speaks volumes about dissatisfaction with the incumbent.
“The question for voters to ask themselves is, why after 25 years in the office do none of the law enforcement groups support the incumbent?” he said. “And why do all of those law enforcement groups endorse and support Beau Oglesby. The law enforcement endorsements I have received prove my assertion that immediate change is needed for the effective prosecution of all crimes in Worcester County.”