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Legal Eagles

Republican Struggles To Raise Profile As Viable AG Candidate
PRESSING THE FLESH: Scott Rolle is hoping to become the first Republican Maryland Attorney General since 1919.

By Lawrence Hurley | Posted 10/25/2006

Scott L. Rolle needs all the help he can get if he is to become Maryland's next attorney general.

The Republican is facing an uphill battle against the well-financed campaign of his Democratic opponent, Douglas F. Gansler, in the race to succeed J. Joseph Curran Jr., who is stepping down after two decades in office.

Rolle, the state's attorney for Frederick County, is therefore trying out a few new tactics, such as setting up his own page on MySpace. As befits a hard-nosed law-and-order Republican who highlights cracking down on internet predators as one of his campaign themes, Rolle's page gives advice to parents on how to protect their children. Then he asks for their votes.

Among Rolle's 279 official friends on MySpace are, fittingly enough, Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and Gov. Robert Ehrlich's re-election team. Rolle says one of his volunteers recommended setting up the page to appeal to younger voters.

"I resisted it for a while," he adds. "Apparently we've had a lot of hits."

Gansler, who is the state's attorney for Montgomery County, doesn't have his own MySpace profile, and--with a Sun poll last month putting him 28 points ahead of his competitor--it looks like he doesn't need one. Maryland campaign finance records also show that he has a considerable financial advantage over Rolle. Gansler had just over $1 million in his account at the start of September, while Rolle had just under $70,000.

"We feel pretty comfortable," Gansler says. "It bodes well for the general election."

Gansler may feel he can rest easy because Maryland hasn't had a Republican attorney general since 1919, but Rolle isn't giving any ground. He's been campaigning heavily in Democratic strongholds, including Gansler's home turf in Montgomery County and neighboring Prince George's County.

Rolle also points to a telephone questionnaire conducted by the Baltimore Examiner that reported that 60.8 percent of voters were undecided on who to vote for, with Gansler at just 12.5 percent of the vote and Rolle at 8.9 percent.

"It's tightened up considerably," he says. "There are a lot of undecideds."

Both candidates say they want to shake up the Attorney General's Office should they be elected, although they are also quick to pay tribute to outgoing AG Curran, whose career in state politics also saw him serve as a state delegate, state senator, and lieutenant governor. Curran's tenure as attorney general has been marked by his commitment to consumer protection and by what some believe was a less-than-aggressive approach to law enforcement.

Rolle notes diplomatically that the issue was "put on the back burner" under Curran, while Gansler says the office's priorities reflected Curran's background as a legislator rather than a prosecutor.

Whatever the reasons, Gansler and Rolle would bring the focus back onto law enforcement, with both promising to assign more lawyers to deal with gang activity and internet-related crime. They also say they would champion environmental laws.

Rolle's top priority, however, would be to push the General Assembly to pass a bill that would abolish parole for sex offenders. That's an issue close to his heart because he once prosecuted a child murderer in Frederick County who was paroled just before he re-offended. "He shouldn't have been out," Rolle says.

For Gansler, the spurt in gang activity throughout Maryland is his greatest concern. It is an issue he has had to deal with as state's attorney in Montgomery County since 1998. If elected, he would set up a team of lawyers who would investigate statewide gang activity. Gansler would also seek to pass a state law that would allow local prosecutors to investigate gang-related conspiracies that cross county lines, effectively a state version of federal anti-gang laws.

As for internet crime, Gansler says state prosecutors across the country have to take up the slack left by the federal government's focus on terrorism. "There's a vacuum there," he says.

Gansler also says that he wants to be known as the "environmental attorney general" and, to that end, wants to conduct an environmental audit on the Chesapeake Bay and prosecute polluters under the federal Clean Water Act. "We are at a tipping point," he says, in reference to the bay. "Once it's gone we can't get it back."

Rolle, a former white-water rafter, agrees with his rival on that point.

Like Gansler, he would beef up manpower in the environmental division of the Attorney General's Office and set up a hot line for citizens to report polluters.

With two local prosecutors running head-to-head and both offering similar proposals, the biggest difference between them--aside from party affiliation--may be their style and background.

Rolle, who has a law degree from Ohio Northern University, touts his patriotism and support for the military, for example. In his role as a lawyer for the U.S. Army Reserve he sits on the other side of the courtroom, defending soldiers in court-martial proceedings. Earlier this year he represented Sgt. Michael Smith, who was sentenced to nearly six months in prison for threatening prisoners with his dog at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "I'm proud to defend soldiers," Rolle says. He has also attacked Gansler for not seeking the death penalty during his eight years as state's attorney in Montgomery.

Gansler, a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a former federal prosecutor in Washington D.C., promotes himself as a reformer. He says he wants to do for the Attorney General's Office what he did in Montgomery County, where, in his own words, he brought "innovative, energetic leadership." Gansler is also known for being extremely media-friendly, an instinct that got him into trouble in 2003 when the Maryland Court of Appeals reprimanded him for speaking publicly about ongoing investigations. The court concluded that his statements could have deprived defendants of fair trials, although the panel opted not to punish him beyond an official warning.

Rolle has claimed that the reprimand raises doubts about Gansler's ability to hold statewide office. But Gansler, who dismissed the complaint at the time as politically motivated, still maintains he did nothing wrong. "It's a nonissue," he says.

Both candidates have been campaigning with their fellow party nominees for statewide office, Rolle with Ehrlich and Gansler with gubernatorial candidate and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Gansler and O'Malley have something of a history. Gansler knocked on doors in Baltimore on behalf of then-Councilman O'Malley in the 1994 election. Then, in the 1998 Montgomery County state's attorney election, Gansler beat O'Malley's father, Thomas O'Malley, who was running as a Republican. Now effectively running on the same ticket, both Gansler and O'Malley hope the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Maryland will catapult them into office.

Gansler says they would make a good team, citing the mayor's proposals to set up "BayStat," a system that would monitor the state of the Chesapeake Bay.

"He wants to identify the polluters," Gansler says. "And I want to prosecute them."

As for Rolle, who is equally close to the Ehrlich campaign, he says he will continue his efforts to close the gap on Gansler as Election Day approaches.

Only then will he know whether the MySpace page was worth it.

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