Prior to the July 22 primaries, the women and men seeking election as Maryland’s next Attorney General sat down for nonpartisan interviews with then-MSBA President Natalie McSherry and former State Senator Bobby Zirkin at MSBA headquarters, to discuss their plans for moving the state forward if elected to office. Part of the MSBA’s efforts to educate members and advocate for the profession, these discussions followed interviews with gubernatorial candidates at the end of 2021.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ANTHONY BROWN says his childhood inspired him to pursue a life of public service. His father practiced medicine in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the service of others. Brown thought he could make a difference in the lives of people through the law, and as Attorney General, he wants to make an even greater impact on the lives of people in Maryland.
In Congressman Brown’s views, the Attorney General has two clients: the State of Maryland and its citizens. The challenge that sometimes arises is how to serve both effectively. His three main priorities as Attorney General are increasing public safety, worker rights and protections, and enforcing environmental protections. He plans to seek legislation that grants the Attorney General the independent authority to file actions against those in the private sector who violate civil rights, power it does not currently have.
Congressman Brown believes that the Attorney General plays an important role in legislation that is considered or ultimately passed by the General Assembly. He thinks Maryland has made a lot of progress with regard to gun safety, but there is not one piece of legislation that will make gun use safer. He supports the use of gun courts, and believes it will be a greater deterrent of gun crimes than increased penalties.
Congressman Brown stated that there are over 30 commissions, committees, and task forces that the Attorney General or their designee is either a member or chair of, and many of those commissions involve members of the public and require attorneys with experience and expertise in the specific areas they deal with. One area where the Attorney General can and should have a relationship with the MSBA is in filling the committees and task forces with people from the legal community. If elected, he hopes that the MSBA could offer recommendations regarding how to improve and build on the work that Attorney General Frosh has done as well.
MICHAEL A. PEROUTKA, an attorney and founder of a self-accredited institute that focuses on constitutional teaching, served on the Anne Arundel County Council from 2014 to 2018 and spent over 20 years working as an attorney in the area of creditors rights.
Peroutka recognized the Attorney General’s unique role as the state’s top legal officer, and discussed a number of areas where his personal views are seemingly at odds with the duties of the office. Asked about his prior comments referring to the education system as “a plank of the Communist Manifesto” and whether he could represent agencies like the Department of Education, Peroutka said he would represent the Department of Education to the best of his abilities but would not hide his personal views about the education system generally.
Peroutka does not recognize the state’s same-sex marriage protections and expressed his opinion about the type of laws that should be defended by the Attorney General. According to Peroutka, there are “two standards to determine whether something is lawful, [first] is whether or not it meets the constitutional limitations of government and [second] is whether it is harmonious with God’s law.”
He takes issue with whether certain agencies had authority to create regulations to protect the public health during the COVID-19 pandemic; in his opinion “lockdowns [and] face mask mandates” were examples of government overreach and were unconstitutional.
Regarding the recent push for a constitutional amendment to protect a woman’s right to choose, Peroutka opined that the state’s abortion laws were a nullity. He went on to state his view that a “child in the womb . . . has not faced a grand jury, has not been indicted by a grand jury, has not had due process, and has not been convicted by a jury of its peers . . . [and] as Attorney General I would not defend that statute.”
JUDGE KATIE O’MALLEY grew up in a family with a long history of working in public service, which inspired her to practice law and be a public service lawyer. She worked in the State’s Attorney’s office for a decade before becoming a district court judge, a position she has held for the past 20 years.
O’Malley sees the focus of the Attorney General as protecting Marylanders, whether it’s through criminal justice, or environmental or consumer protection, serving the interest of the state at every level of government.
If elected, O’Malley would work to attract and retain the best and brightest lawyers, start intern programs in Maryland’s law schools to get students interested in working for the Office of the Attorney General, and make sure that deputies working in the office have diverse experience. She thinks it is beneficial to have both attorneys who have worked in private practice and attorneys who for the government their entire careers working in the Office.
In O’Malley’s career as a trial judge, she has seen the negative impacts a person can face when they come to court without counsel and how greatly the lack of representation disadvantages people when it comes to access to justice. She would strongly advocate for people to have counsel during eviction proceedings and in protective order hearings.
Violent crime is a significant issue in Maryland and Baltimore City specifically, and if elected, O’Malley will collaborate with different stakeholders to fight crime. She would also strive for increased transparency and accountability for law enforcement. She thinks Maryland needs a leader who has built cases with investigators and worked with attorneys to lead the organized crime division. O’Malley says she can do this on day one because of her experience working on such issues as a prosecutor for a decade and then as a trial judge for 20 years.
JAMES SHALLECK describes his passions as public service and prosecution. He says he is running for Attorney General to reduce crime, specifically to reduce the number of violent crimes and repeat offenders in Maryland, which he believes is the most important function of the position.
Shalleck’s background includes working as an Assistant District Attorney and Chief of the Homicide Bureau in the Bronx, prosecuting white collar crimes as an Assistant Attorney General for New York, and working in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department. Shalleck says he knows how to prosecute cases, and he wants to use the office to fight street crime, which is what he believes people in Maryland care about most. Reducing crime is his most critical concern. He envisions redefining the role as a statewide prosecutor, noting that the Maryland Constitution provides the Attorney General with criminal prosecution authority. He would offer to intervene when the State’s attorneys lack the means to process cases. Shalleck advocates for more police funding and protecting the police. He wants to hold judges accountable, as, in his opinion, there is not enough transparency when it comes to the sentences they deliver.
The discussion then turned to environmental concerns, with Shalleck stating that major polluters should go to jail and pay substantial fines. He explained that he would put an assistant Attorney General at different offices around the state on a regular basis so that people in the community could report pollution.
Shalleck would recruit nationwide and promote Maryland as a great place to live to attract the best attorneys to the Attorney General’s office. He believes that public awareness could help efforts to increase the salaries for attorneys working in the Attorney General’s office.
Shalleck is not in favor of the legalization of recreational marijuana use but does not think that people should be heavily penalized for minor infractions. He does not support the government creating safe drug consumption sites in Maryland communities.
*The MSBA hosted nonpartisan interviews. The MSBA is apolitical and thus does not seek to support any particular candidate but rather raise awareness of the important perspectives every candidate brings in their quest to become Attorney General of our great state.
Anthony Brown (D) and Michael Peroutka (R) won their primaries and advanced to the general election. Anthony Brown (D) was elected Attorney General and sworn into office on January 3, 2023.