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Frosh: Ready for a fight

05.13.2014

By: Steve Lash  Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer              

 May 12, 2014

After more than a quarter-century of drafting laws, Sen. Brian E. Frosh now wants to enforce and defend them.

“There’s the sue-and-be-sued part of it,” Frosh said of the attorney general’s job. “Suing on behalf of the state is a tool for change, a way of vindicating important rights.”

Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, is running in the party’s primary for attorney general against delegates Jon S. Cardin, of Baltimore County, and Aisha N. Braveboy, of Prince George’s County. The primary election is June 24.

As attorney general, Frosh said he would focus on consumer protection, the environment and public safety, in particular enforcement of Maryland’s gun control laws.

In fact, Frosh could find himself in the intriguing position of having to defend in the U.S. Supreme Court a law that he had championed as a legislator.

Frosh, who has chaired the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee since 2003, was instrumental in last year’s passage of the Maryland Firearm Safety Act, widely regarded as among the strictest gun-control laws in the country.

He said he expects gun-rights advocates to challenge that measure — which requires purchasers of handguns to be licensed — all the way to the high court. .

“If I am the attorney general, it would be a case I would relish arguing,” he said — though as a practical matter, the self-effacing Frosh might defer to someone with Supreme Court experience.

“You don’t want to lose a case because of poor oral argument,” he said.

In addition to the gun bill, Frosh helped shepherd legislation to repeal the death penalty and to allow same-sex marriage in Maryland.

The chairman found he had to compromise in two other highly divisive fights triggered by Maryland high court decisions — one imposing strict liability on pit bull owners and the other finding that individuals have a state constitutional right to counsel at initial bail hearings.

Frosh generally favored strict liability for dog owners in the wake of the Court of Appeals’ April 26, 2012, decision in Tracey v. Solesky, but realized that position was not shared by most of the General Assembly.

After two years of legislative rancor, a compromise bill passed this session that creates a breed-neutral presumption of owner liability for dog attacks. Owners can rebut this presumption by showing they had no reason to suspect their dog had a violent propensity.

“It was an enormously controversial and hard fight,” Frosh said,

Though the compromise “wasn’t perfect,” it did “incorporate the views of people on all sides of the issue,” he added.

The high court’s constitutional ruling Sept. 25 in DeWolfe v. Richmond presented the state with the prospect of having to pay $30 million annually to enable the public defender’s office to have attorneys on call at the 177,000 initial bail hearings held state wide each year, he said.

Frosh’s $15 million solution was to replace the initial bail hearings before a district court commissioner with a computer-based risk assessment program. But the proposal died in the House Judiciary Committee, whose powerful chairman, Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, strongly objected to the absence of a judicial officer in the process.

The General Assembly ended up earmarking $10 million from the Maryland Judiciary’s budget for the appointment of counsel to serve at initial bail hearings, an amount Frosh said will be woefully short to get the job done.

He referred to that particular loss as “unfinished business” of his time in the General Assembly.

“We missed an opportunity this year,” he added.

Even so, Frosh said his legislative defeats and successes have prepared him for the rigors of managing the attorney general’s office and picking legal battles.

“It’s like playing chess,” he added. “You’ve got to see the whole board. That’s how good lawyers think.”

At 67, Frosh is the oldest candidate in the Democratic field; Braveboy is 39 and Cardin is 44.

Frosh said he sees his age, which include many years as a lawyer and legislator, as an asset.

“Experience counts,” he said. “You’re going to be head of the largest law firm in the state.”

Backing up local enforcement

Frosh, who joined the Maryland bar in 1972, is a name partner at Karp, Frosh, Wigodsky & Norwind P.A. in Bethesda. His practice consists of business litigation and international antitrust issues.

His legislative career began in January 1987 after his election to the House of Delegates. He was elected to the Senate in November 1994 and took his seat for the 1995 session. He chaired the environmental subcommittee of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee until 2003, when he took the helm at Judicial Proceedings.

Frosh said he was prepared to seek another Senate term when Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, suggested in the summer of 2012 that he run for attorney general, which would become a vacant position with the incumbent, Douglas F. Gansler, opting to run for governor.

Frosh said he thought about it for a couple of weeks before deciding to run.

“I focused on the big issues” as a legislator, Frosh said.

“I did the little stuff, too,” he added. “I think I can make a bigger difference as attorney general. That’s what inspired me to participate in public life, to improve people’s lives.”

In addition to defending the gun control law, Frosh’s platform includes going after companies that believe “it’s cheaper to cut corners and pollute”; and consumer protection measures, such as stepped-up enforcement of laws against identity fraud and scams against the elderly. He says the state also can do more to protect consumers from collection agencies who pursue debts that have been paid or otherwise excused through bankruptcy or the statute of limitations.

While many such laws now call for enforcement by local authorities, Frosh said he would meet with local state’s attorneys, consumer and environmental groups to develop effective enforcement strategies.

“I think given the resources that we have, we have to be more aggressive” in enforcement, he added.

He said being attorney general would be the capstone of his career.

“This is the last office I am going to seek,” said Frosh, a 1971 Columbia Law School graduate.

“This isn’t a springboard for anything,” he added. “I won’t be looking over my shoulder to find where the next campaign contribution is coming from.”

And if he loses?

“Whatever happens, I’m content,” Frosh said.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face off in the general election Nov. 4 against attorneys Jeffrey N. Pritzker, a Republican, and Leo Wayne Dymowski, a Libertarian, who both reside in Baltimore County.