Democrats running for Maryland attorney general argue their experience is more relevant for the job

Published on: July 08, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

Democratic candidates for Attorney General, Katie Curran O'Malley and Anthony Brown.

On their campaign websites for Maryland attorney general, Anthony Brown and Katie Curran O’Malley both list addressing gun violence as one of their priorities.

They both vow to defend reproductive rights and protect and expand voting rights.

And they both back the legalization of marijuana.

Brown, who’s represented Maryland’s 4th Congressional District that includes parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties since 2017, and O’Malley, who most recently served as an associate judge on the District Court of Maryland in Baltimore from 2001-2021, share another connection as they seek the Democratic nomination. For eight years, Brown served as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Katie Curran O’Malley’s husband.

Both would mark a historic choice for an office that white men have exclusively occupied. Brown would be the first Black elected attorney general, and O’Malley the first woman.

Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, is retiring after two terms.

But each candidate argues that their type of experience — Brown as a legislator and executive, and O’Malley as a prosecutor and judge — make them better qualified to serve as attorney general, the chief legal officer of Maryland.

“A truly contested primary like this is something we don’t have that often. But when it’s the attorney general’s office — or again, coming back to the governor’s race — you’ve got pretty much mainstream Democrats running against each other,” said Todd Eberly, a professor of political science and coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “There’s not much difference between these candidates.”

“It comes down to, ‘Who do I think might be better at the job? Who do I like more?’” he later added. “That’s why any opportunity to get into a position where people can hear you or see you matters.”

The Goucher College Poll, in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR, surveyed 403 Democratic likely voters between June 15-19 and found that the race is a statistical dead heat, with Brown polling at 29%, O’Malley at 30% and 35% undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9%.

Brown, 60, of Prince George’s County, is the son of immigrants whose father, Roy, emigrated from Kingston, Jamaica, to the United States and became a physician.

Before voters elected him to three terms in Congress, Brown was lieutenant governor from 2007-2015. He also served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1999-2007.

In 1984, Brown earned his bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College and juris doctor from Harvard Law School in 1992. He served as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army from 1984-1989 and then transitioned to the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps, retiring as a colonel in 2014.

Brown said his legal background — he’s practiced in small and large law firms and worked on everything from appellate litigation to land use and zoning cases to class action and multiparty matters — and legislative and executive experience make him better qualified to serve as attorney general.

“I’ve never been in search of a title,” said Brown, who considered running for the position in 2006. “It’s an opportunity to make a bigger impact in the lives of the people that I’ve served now for several decades.”

He said he has a comprehensive understanding of state government. That’s something that’s important, he said, because the client is the state.

The attorney general, he said, is an executive who manages and leads a complex organization. Brown noted that in the JAG Corps he managed 80 legal professionals who handled a variety of matters.

During the campaign, Brown has also touted his legislative advocacy experience.

Though the attorney general will handle important cases, Brown said, many of the changes that Marylanders want require changes to state law.

Frosh, he said, spends more time in Annapolis when the Maryland General Assembly is in session than the courtroom. Brown credited that advocacy for pushing lawmakers to ban ghost guns.

“Brian Frosh is most effective as an attorney general because of his years of experience in the state legislature,” Brown said. “And that’s the kind of experience that I’ll bring.”

He’s received endorsements from the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO; Maryland State Education Association; Sierra Club; and Pro-Choice Maryland.

State Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery County and chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, considered running for attorney general but endorsed Brown.

Smith said he knows Brown and understands his integrity and commitment to public service.

When Smith, an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, deployed to Afghanistan in 2019, he said Brown consistently checked in on his wife and daughter.

The attorney general often must appeal to the legislature for the tools and resources to effectively represent the people. For example, Smith said, that included the authority to investigate all instances in which police officers use deadly force.

Maryland is the most diverse state on the East Coast and needs an attorney general who’s sensitive to and understands communities of color, Smith said. The Justice Policy Institute, he noted, published a report in 2019 that found Maryland leads the country in incarcerating young Black men.

“I know Congressman Brown, and he’s a good, honorable and decent person who will continue on in the tradition of faithful, effective public service in the office,” Smith said.

“You want someone with that kind of commitment and temperament in office,” he added. “And he’s got it.”

Smith emphasized that he holds O’Malley in high regard, adding that nothing negative toward her should be inferred from his comments.

O’Malley, 59, of Baltimore, started her legal career in 1988 as a law clerk in the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office and attended law school at night.

From 1991-2001, O’Malley served as an assistant state’s attorney, prosecuting hundreds of cases, including murders.

She presided over thousands of cases during her two decades on the bench. O’Malley also served as a drug treatment court judge, taught other jurists about best practices in domestic violence cases, and volunteered in the truancy court program, meeting once a week for 12 years with families and children in Baltimore to work out solutions.

In 1985, O’Malley earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies from Towson University and juris doctor from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1991.

She comes from a prominent political family. Her father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., was Maryland’s longest-serving attorney general from 1987-2007.

O’Malley said she’s been living, breathing and working in courtrooms in Maryland for more than 30 years and possess skills that can’t be learned on day one.

“I’ve had a lot of interaction in the state of Maryland with people and solving problems. And I think the attorney general needs to have that unique experience,” she said. “I’ve actually worked with the people who these laws effect.”

Assistant attorneys general, she said, are going to want to have a leader who’s been in the trenches. O’Malley said that experience is critical when making decisions, such as when to settle a case or opt for a jury or bench trial.

She said she plans to go to court to try cases.

Former Attorney General Doug Gansler, she noted, went to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend Maryland’s DNA database. Her father went, too — twice.

Though Brown is a fine congressman, she said, he has never tried a criminal case in Maryland.

“Listen, he’s a fine legislator. He’s worked with legislators and passed laws. And that’s a good thing,” O’Malley said. “But you have to do something with those laws, right? You use them. And you use them in courtroom.”

She’s received endorsements from The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post; the League of Conservation Voters; EMILY’S List; retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland; and former Gov. Parris Glendening.

O’Malley was an effective judge who showed a willingness and motivation to do more in her position, said Mary Ellen Barbera, the retired chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

That includes her work speaking and teaching about best practices in domestic violence cases.

“It’s emblematic of Katie that she would not just be satisfied in handling the cases that come before her in her courtroom — that she wanted to have knowledge of, and advance access to, justice in a broader way,” Barbera said.

District judges, she said, do not just preside over criminal cases, but hear a variety of matters, including evictions, contract disputes and speeding tickets.

Barbera worked in the Maryland Office of the Attorney General from 1985-1998 and stated that many skills as a judge translate to the position, including the ability to carefully listen, neutrally apply the law and make difficult decisions.

She said she believes that O’Malley, through observing her father, also understands the challenges, responsibilities and breadth of experience required to serve as attorney general.

Barbera was the first female chief judge. She said she believes that it would be good for the state to have a woman in leadership.

Two Republicans — Jim Shalleck, a former prosecutor who served as president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, and Michael Peroutka, a past Anne Arundel County councilman who belonged to the League of the South, a Southern secession group — are seeking the GOP nomination.

In Maryland, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1 in voter registration. Voters last elected a Republican attorney general in 1919.

The attorney general serves a four-year term and is set to earn a salary of $149,550 in 2022.

Early voting runs from July 7-14. The primary is July 19.

Read more: