Anthony Brown will take office as Maryland attorney general this week with plans to ask lawmakers for additional resources as well as the power to enforce civil rights laws and conduct investigations aimed at addressing systemic problems in law enforcement.
In November, Brown, a Democrat, easily defeated Michael Peroutka, a Republican who served on the Anne Arundel County Council from 2014-2018 and once belonged to the League of the South. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the organization as a hate group that espouses neo-Confederate ideology.
Brown will be the first Black person to serve as attorney general, the state’s chief legal officer.
Since 2017, Brown has represented Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. He served as lieutenant governor from 2007-2015, and as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1999-2007.
The Baltimore Banner spoke with Brown, 61, of Prince George’s County, about his plans and priorities in advance of his being sworn in on Tuesday as Maryland’s 47th attorney general. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity:
The Banner: What are your top priorities, and what do you hope to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?
Anthony Brown: Eight days after I’m sworn in, I’ll be in Annapolis spending a lot of time with the legislature. So there are four priorities — two of them are kind of appropriations, and two of them are authorizations.
On the authorization side, I’m looking to establish a civil rights enforcement authority for the Office of the Attorney General. I think it’s time now for the attorney general to have that authority to be able to bring class actions, to bring multistate actions or multi-jurisdictional actions to protect the rights of Marylanders.
The second is to establish the authority to conduct pattern or practice investigations of police misconduct. Today, that work is done in Maryland exclusively by the Department of Justice. And as you probably know, Baltimore City is under a consent decree with the Department of Justice. With pattern or practice investigation, the intentions are that when there are signs of sort of repeated misconduct, to go in to discover what the root causes are. Is it training? Is it recruiting? Is it leadership? What’s creating the culture where you’re seeing repeated misconduct?
On the appropriations side, I want to adopt an alternative salary schedule for the lawyers in my office. They do great work. They have for years. And we can’t just simply commend them for their good work and expect to be able to recruit and retain the best. It’s about time that we raise the salaries. So we’ll be proposing a salary schedule, which will result in salary increases for the lawyers in the office. And then we’ll be working to also increase salaries for the non-lawyer staff.
I’m going to ask the General Assembly to double the size of my Organized Crime Unit. I’ve got 12 attorneys. I want to go to 24.
For the entire time that I was on this campaign visiting with communities around the state, the question was always asked, “What are you going to do as attorney general to make me feel safer in my home and in my community?” And while there’s no easy or simple solution, I do think part of that is my ability to increase investigations and prosecutions where I have the authority to do that, and that is in the organized crime area.
But I also know that improving public safety is more than investigations and prosecutions. So I will work with the General Assembly on efforts to reduce recidivism, and to certainly eliminate the disparities in the over-incarceration of Black, particularly young Black and brown men, working on things like hate crimes and gun safety regulations.
So there’s a lot that goes to the public safety effort. But one of my priorities for the office will be to get additional resources for the investigation and prosecution of organized crime.
Your predecessor, Brian Frosh, has talked frequently about how the office is under-resourced. Do you think that you will be able to get the budget that you’re seeking with an executive branch and legislative branch that will now both be under Democratic control?
Oh, I think so. I think that there is sort of like an ideological difference between conservatives and progressives when it comes to the role and the resources of government. And I think you’ve seen over the last eight years, that there’s been an underinvestment by Gov. Hogan in state government.
The legislature in 2021 created the Independent Investigations Division to examine “all alleged or potential police-involved deaths of civilians.” Lawmakers are considering handing over prosecutorial power in these cases to the attorney general. Where do you stand on that proposal?
In terms of the authority to prosecute, I think it’s the natural evolution or progression of this authority. When you speak to most prosecutors, they would prefer to conduct their own investigation. How they conduct that investigation will shape how they present their case — should it go to trial, should it be prosecuted in front of a jury.
So I think it’s important that the attorney general has that authority.
What I’m open to — and I think it’s worth a conversation, and I’ve spoken to this on the campaign trail — is whether or not you give the local state’s attorney the right of first refusal.
I support extending the prosecutorial authority. I’m open to the right of first refusal to the local state’s attorneys. And I’m going to work with the General Assembly to make sure we get something passed.
Are you committed to fighting for the release of the grand jury report into the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and do you have any plans to investigate the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington?
Let me start by saying I intend to continue to pursue all of the investigation, enforcement, prosecution and other matters that have been initiated by Attorney General Frosh and his assistant attorneys general. I do not intend to go into office on Jan. 3 and bring anything to a screeching halt.
These are professional attorneys, professional investigators; it’s a group of professionals whose work, I’ll say, does not need to be questioned.
On the second part of your question, I haven’t read the investigation. I’ve looked at a lot of material — I looked at a lot of material during the course of this transition — but I have not looked at any documents or information about matters.
So until I have an opportunity to review an investigation and to speak with my leadership team, it’s really, it’s difficult if not impossible for me to say whether I would investigate beyond the Baltimore Archdiocese. I need the opportunity to take a look at the report and then be able to make a determination from there.
Maryland law requires people who’ve experienced childhood sexual abuse to either file a lawsuit by age 38 or within three years of the criminal conviction of a perpetrator. Do you support efforts to create a so-called “lookback window” that would allow survivors who are currently barred from suing to do so, or do you believe that such a measure is unconstitutional?
I have always supported an expansive statute of limitations to provide, particularly in these child sexual abuse cases, the opportunity to have their day in court — given the circumstances, the difficulties, the challenges that these victims face.
I believe the legislature will look to the Office of the Attorney General for our opinion, both in a formal opinion about the lookback window — if it hasn’t already been provided in previous sessions — and I’m certain that they’ll ask about my opinion, professional and even personal.
I’m going to go back and look at whether there was a retroactivity provision in what I voted on now almost 20 years ago before I answer definitively whether I’ll support a lookback period. Because I don’t want to be inconsistent with a position I take without having to give it consideration to be able to articulate why I may have changed or whether I’m consistent.
For the last eight years, Maryland has had an attorney general and governor who are members of different political parties. That will change when Wes Moore is sworn in as governor on Jan. 18. What do you envision being the relationship between yourself and Gov. Moore?
I think it’s going to be a strong relationship. I think it’s going to be a close relationship.
I met Gov.-elect Moore through his wife, Dawn, who worked for me. She was my campaign manager when I was running for lieutenant governor. And, in fact, when I asked Dawn to be my campaign manager, I was running for attorney general 16 years ago. And then early in that campaign, before Joe Curran, who was the incumbent at the time, announced his retirement, Martin O’Malley asked me to join him as lieutenant governor. And I did. And Dawn stayed with me on that campaign as well.
I think it’s going to be a solid relationship. We text or talk probably every 10 days now. We saw each other almost daily on the campaign trail. We’re constantly checking in with one another. He’s committed to the work of the Office of the Attorney General, recognizing that the state deserves quality legal representation, and that the people of Maryland deserve an attorney general who’s going to have their back.
And so I think it’s going to be a very close relationship. And I’ve worked with many of the people who he’s announced on his leadership team.
Is there anything else that you felt was important to mention that we haven’t discussed?
As attorneys, I think we have a duty — a professional, ethical duty — to not only advise our clients about the law, but for them to consider factors around equity and social factors and moral factors. And the advice that we give them, does that tend to promote a more equitable outcome in the decisions that our clients are making? Whether it’s the regulations or promulgating the contracts that they’re awarding, the actions that they’re taking. Does it promote equity, fairness and justice as we treat everybody fairly and justly?
Or does it promote, or does it, let’s say, exacerbate inequities? So I think that’s an important role and responsibility for the attorney general.
I’m creating an Office of Equity, Policy and Engagement to ensure we have the tools in our office to fulfill that responsibility.