SNOW HILL — Worcester County voters will head to the polls next week and one of the decisions they will have to make is their State’s Attorney for the next four years.
The incumbent, Republican Beau Oglesby, defeated long-time Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd four years ago and has served as the county’s top prosecutor for the last four years, prosecuting hundreds if not thousands of cases. The challenger, private sector attorney and Democrat Mike Farlow, served as a deputy state’s attorney under Todd as well as Oglesby for a short period. In the four years since, he has defended many of the high profile cases in the county.
With the election just days away, each candidate responded to a series of questions submitted by The Dispatch this week. The following represents some of the highlights of their responses.
Q. Clearly you have contrasting styles. What do you bring to the table that your opponent might not?
Oglesby: My commitment to making Worcester County and the entire Eastern Shore the safest possible has never wavered. That commitment and investment only increased after Anne and I had our two children. I am proud to say that for 17 years, I have prosecuted the worst criminal offenders in our communities and held them accountable for their actions. During the past four years, I have represented Worcester County as its State’s Attorney working with the allied law enforcement agencies in our mission to protect and advocate for its citizens and visitors. My opponent has spent the past four years as a criminal defense attorney in Worcester County working against that mission.
The elected State’s Attorney is so much more than a trial attorney. There are daily obligations of representing the office and Worcester County law enforcement in the community and across the state. These include meeting and coordinating with Sheriff Mason and the other police chiefs, sitting on the boards of numerous law enforcement, government or civic organizations, speaking to groups regarding current issues in the area, meeting with citizens who simply need guidance or advice or serving as the Treasurer and on the Executive Board of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association. By assembling and managing the very best team of prosecutors and support staff, I am able to meet these obligations and still know that criminals are being held accountable in the courtroom.
The responsibilities of the office don’t stop when you go home. It requires a commitment to be available 24 hours a day. Whether you’re in court or at dinner with your family, you must be your very best all day and all year. The office requires and demands a level of professionalism and maturity that I possess.
In four years I’ve made a lot of positive changes to the way in which The Office of the State’s Attorney conducts itself in and out of court. Those changes and management have led to more specialized prosecutions, greater levels of accountability and higher success rates. What do I bring to the table that my opponent might not? Results.
Farlow: I bring a number of things to the table. First, it’s in my nature to be a problem solver, which is something that is necessary in the State’s Attorney’s Office. When someone tells me that something can’t be done, that just motivates me to find a way to do it. In that same vein, I also have a lot of common sense. Sometimes, as a prosecutor, you have to look at a case and say that there’s a better way to work it out than to just bring everyone to court. When I was Deputy State’s Attorney, I regularly sent minor disputes between neighbors to mediation. Rather than the court having to resolve something, the parties themselves would, more often than not, craft their own solutions. It was a program that ultimately saved a lot of time and resources, and it was all because we were willing to put two people in a room with a neutral third party and make them listen to, and understand each other.
I would also bring a great deal of empathy to the position. Most people don’t realize how important it is for a prosecutor to understand what the people in a case are feeling. But as a prosecutor, it is vitally important to understand the pain that a victim feels, or to realize that what might seem like apathy toward a case is really just an avoidance mechanism that they are using to cope with the situation. That same sense of understanding is also important in preparing witnesses for trial, and in speaking with the jury in a way that they can relate.
I also have a wide range of courtroom experience and lifetime experiences that let me see the cases that I handle in a better perspective than my opponent, and that makes me want to find real and lasting solutions to the issues that we face.
Q. Going forward, what do you envision for the next four years?
Oglesby: I have never accepted maintaining the status quo as a measure of success. No matter what you do in life, there is always room to improve and do more. While we have enjoyed incredible success over the last four years, I fully intend on reaching even greater benchmarks in the years to come. I refuse to be complacent in this job.
Technology continues to change the way we will do business. The court system is in the process of automating and requiring electronic filings. I will be working with the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association to ensure a smooth transition. We have begun to store our files electronically and that project will be complete in the next term. Additionally, I intend to launch a web based calendar and communication system to efficiently and effectively communicate with our witnesses and victims.
As the law changes so too does our approach to enforcing the law. I am constantly working with leaders in law enforcement as well as with members of my staff to re-evaluate our strategies and policies to achieve greater results.
Four years from now, I want Worcester County to continue to be the first place you want to live, and the last place you want to commit a crime.
Farlow: If elected, I anticipate a more open State’s Attorney’s Office. One of the biggest roles for a prosecutor is keeping connected with the communities he or she serves. I would hold regular town hall-style meetings throughout the county, giving people an opportunity to voice their concerns about crime in the area, and giving prosecutors a chance to meet the people they serve.
We also need to form partnerships between the State’s Attorney’s Office, our police, our schools, the PTA’s, the health department, and other public and private agencies to create meaningful drug prevention programs. So much of the crime in our county is related either directly or indirectly to drugs, that preventative measures are one of the best ways to lower our overall crime rates. Keeping kids away from drugs isn’t always an easy task, but we shouldn’t shy away from it just because it is difficult. We have some tremendous schools and some remarkable students, we just need to make certain that we give them the opportunity to succeed.
I think that we should also advocate for truth in sentencing. If a judge thinks that someone should spend five years in prison, then that person should spend five years in prison. Instead, most violent offenders are eligible for parole after they have served half of their sentence. Neither the judge nor the prosecutor are able to control the outcome of parole hearings. Even victims, who have a right to address the parole board, rarely exercise that right. This is a change that needs to be made by the legislature, but we all need to work to make that happen.
The State’s Attorney’s Office needs an overhaul in the way that it handles cases and in the way that it communicates with the public, but, other than getting a new elected State’s Attorney, it doesn’t need an overhaul in personnel. To get rid of a dedicated prosecutor simply because he or she was hired by the prior State’s Attorney is small minded and demonstrates a lot of insecurities. I think that we need a different approach to cases, one where prosecutors evaluate a case based on the simple maxim that justice and only justice shall prevail. It is frustrating to see jury after jury brought into court for small cases. Doing that not only costs county tax payers money, but it causes juror fatigue — resentment usually directed at the state because the juror has to miss so much time from work and family — that ends up jeopardizing the big cases. We can do better than that.
(Editor’s Note: Because of their unique juxtapositions in the race, the State’s Attorney candidates were asked a few questions specific to their own experiences and accomplishments.)
Q. What do you consider among your greatest accomplishments as Worcester County State’s Attorney over the last four years?
Oglesby: Four years ago, the voters of this county entrusted me with the greatest job in the world, and every day since has been full of challenges and exciting successes.
My father was a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army and he taught me at an early age that a person is only as strong as the people with whom they surround themselves. This is true in both your personal, spiritual and professional life. Guided by that principle, I have assembled the strongest team of prosecutors, investigators and support staff possible. Together we have enjoyed incredible victories and successes in the courtroom, to include a 100-percent conviction rate for homicides, the highest DUI conviction rate in the State, mandatory penalties for drug dealers and strict sentences for those who would molest, exploit or abuse the most vulnerable among us – our children.
During my administration, I have decreased the overall budget by 6 percent during these economically difficult times. I have committed our office to doing more with less. In fact, I have re-structured our first offender program in such a way that it completely accounts and generates enough income to completely sustain our operating expenses.
Q. You’ve defended some high profile cases in Worcester in recent years. Is courtroom experience one of your strong suits in your bid for the State’s Attorney’s office?
Farlow: I definitely have a lot of courtroom experience. In my years as an attorney, there are few types of criminal or traffic cases that I haven’t tried. I never wanted to be known for prosecuting just one type of crime. Some people might spend a large part of their career just handling drug cases, and might even be really good at that one type of prosecution, but then they can’t relate to a jury in some other type of case. I had the benefit, early in my career, of practicing in both District and Circuit Court, and in practicing in front of a wide variety of judges. That exposure to different cases, different courts, and different judicial philosophies made me a much better overall lawyer.
Yet my courtroom experience isn’t the only strength that I have. I have a broad background of leadership experiences that would serve me well in managing the office, and I have a lifelong commitment to public safety, evidenced by the 25 years that I have spent in the fire service and by my recent induction into the Maryland State Firemen’s Association Hall of Fame.
Q. Clearly, through your endorsements, you’re extremely popular with the local law enforcement community. Is that one of your biggest assets as State’s Attorney?
Oglesby: How do you adequately express what the overwhelming support from both local and state law enforcement and first responders actually means? Four years ago, they endorsed me because I made them a promise to be tough on crime and to hold all accountable. This election, their renewed endorsements are recognition that not only did I keep my promises – but that they once again accept my commitment and join in partnership to continue that work with me and the Office that I have assembled. Their continued endorsements and support are more than just assets, they are a clear message to this community that their current prosecutors and law enforcement officers are not only on the same team, but that their teamwork is thriving.