Views from the Office of the Attorney General
Maryland’s Attorney General, Brian E. Frosh, recently served on a question-and-answer panel at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Legal Excellence Week program for the Real Estate section. Prior to serving as the state’s top lawyer, Mr. Frosh served in the Maryland General Assembly for 28 years, including 12 as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. He served as the state’s 46th Attorney General, ensuring fairness, equality, and justice for all Marylanders.
Frosh spent some time going down memory lane and discussed how he became the 46th Attorney General of the state. He worked on Capitol Hill for four years and then went into private practice in Washington, D.C., where he started doing real estate settlements. Consequently, he became a specialist in representing tenant associations. The District of Columbia passed a law (TOPA) that gives certain rights to tenants to purchase the property they rent before a building could be converted into condominiums. Frosh represented several tenant associations that wanted to buy their buildings and stated he was successful in helping many tenants purchase their apartments as a home at a much lower cost. Even though Frosh had a positive experience practicing law in this area, he said he was never tempted to pass a similar law in Maryland while serving as a legislator. From there, Frosh moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to practice international antitrust law. After working in Sante Fe for a couple of years, he moved back to Maryland and started running for public office.
The first time he ran for public office was for the state senate. He lost the election but learned a lot. Someone he knew once told him, “The best you can do is run for public office and win, the second-best thing you can do is run for public office and lose.” At the time, he thought that was ridiculous advice, but after he lost his first campaign for public office, he realized how true the advice was because he had learned so much about how to campaign, how to run a campaign, how to build up a group of supporters and how to raise money. Frosh said the second time he ran for public office, he actually knew what he was doing, and he has been lucky ever since then.
One of the most consequential state bills Frosh sponsored as a legislator was the Brownfields and voluntary clean up legislation in 1997. Frosh stated he is “very proud of this legislation.” He felt it was important to re-develop industrial, contaminated sites and get real clean-ups in exchange for the immunity the developers get when they engage in those programs. The great success of the legislation can be seen in Harbor East in Baltimore because all of that re-development was built on former contaminated industrial sites, he said.
While serving in the General Assembly, he loved every minute of it. Term limits are the norm, but he believed he became a better legislator with time. One of the bills he proposed that was never passed concerned bail. The Court of Appeals had issued an opinion that said every person who is charged and brought in front of a judge to determine if the person should be released is entitled to an attorney. It became apparent to him that Maryland had thousands of people in jail for one reason, and “that was because they were poor.” Most of these people committed minor offenses like urinating in public or trespassing and the bail would be set at maybe one thousand dollars. But most of these people did not have the one hundred dollars to pay a bondsman to get out of jail on a thousand-dollar bail amount so they would sit in jail for days, weeks or months before their trial date rolled around. Most pled guilty to offenses they had not committed just to get released. Frosh introduced legislation that would remedy this problem, but it never passed. Then in his second year as Attorney General, he proposed a rule change that was eventually implemented. The rule change resulted in thousands fewer people in jail pre-trial. Frosh said people who have committed offenses while they are on release have dropped down to the 3% range which is extraordinarily good.
Frosh stated a main goal of the Attorney General’s office is to make the consumer whole. As Attorney General, he helped increase the penalties for violating the Consumer Protection Act. It has been increased from $1,000 for a single violation to $10,000. Frosh encouraged attorneys representing clients who are faced with an investigation from his office to encourage their clients to own up to their mistake and pay the money back to make the consumer whole. His office handles a huge number of Consumer Protection Act enforcement cases related to real estate. The Attorney General’s office recently settled a case with a landlord that was charging tenants illegal fees, and did nothing to eradicate roaches, mold and mice.
Finally, Frosh said he found the office of the Attorney General to be an extremely effective tool to protect Marylanders, for improving their lives and for delivering justice. His successor, Anthony Brown, “is a smart guy and a great lawyer” and Frosh is sure he will do an outstanding job.
Frosh added he is going to continue to fight for the things that interest him such as protecting democracy, climate change, poverty and gun violence. He may try standup comedy, but he will sort all that out come January.