Want to serve, not get big paycheck

July 19, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Attorney Gregory Bannon says he is not running for Washington County State's Attorney because the job pays $100,350 a year.

"This will be a pay cut for me," he said, adding that he will do it because "I want to contribute. I want to make a difference."

Bannon, 53, is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of Maryland School of Law.

Bannon and Gordon Lynn will face incumbent State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. in the Sept. 12 Republican primary, with the winner facing Democrat Jerry Joyce in the Nov. 7 general election.


An attorney since 1978, Bannon said he came to Hagerstown in 1979 and joined the firm of Wachs, Boone and Bannon. In 1990, he formed his own firm and said he's proud of the fact that he's been able to operate it profitably for 16 years.

But with the exception of an internship in the U.S. Attorney's office, Bannon doesn't have experience as a prosecutor. But that won't be a handicap, he said.

"A good criminal defense attorney should anticipate what a prosecutor is going to do," he said.

"It's not going to take me three years to get up to speed," Bannon said, in an apparent reference to incumbent Charles Strong Jr.'s statement that with new attorneys, it usually takes the state's attorney's office three years to "get them up to full speed."

"I will be a hands-on state's attorney, both on the administrative duties and going to court," he said.

Bannon said that until he got into the race, there was little discussion of the issues, including why the state's attorney's office seldom seeks the death penalty.

Asked whether such cases usually involve multiple appeals and years of court appearances, Bannon said that when someone is convicted in such a case, there is an automatic appeal.

"I think seeking the death penalty sends a message and not seeking the death penalty sends the wrong message," he said.

Asked what sort of cases he would consider for the ultimate penalty, Bannon said "bludgeoning an elderly couple to death or breaking into a woman's home and murdering her."

But Bannon said he's not running on just one issue. Leadership is also a key issue, he said.

"Who is the best leader? Charlie and Gordy are nice guys, but I believe I can be a better state's attorney than the two of them," he said.

Not only does he have 28 years of trial experience, Bannon said, but he worked his way through the University of Maryland, graduating with honors. In law school, he said, he received the highest score in his criminal procedure class, winning him the school's American Juris Prudence Award.

He said that in the last two years, the state's attorney's budget has increased by $500,000, about 28 percent.

Most of that came as a result of increases in salaries and benefits, noting that in April of 2005, Strong asked the county commissioners to raise the pay of his two deputies from about $63,000 to $85,000.

That request followed the commissioners' move to keep County Attorney John Martirano from taking a job with the Board of Education by hiking his salary from $66,747 to $90,000.

In his announcement speech, Bannon said that he was running for the police officers who don't have any input into plea bargains and to correct a system that allows attorney to "judge shop."

Asked if that is occurring now, Bannon said, "I can only tell you what I've heard."

Bannon said he was familiar with the case of a man who had lost a leg when a drunk driver hit him. A plea was negotiated, but the victim was only notified at 4:30 p.m. the day before the trial.

As for the alleged judge-shopping, Bannon said that in one case, Circuit Court Judge Frederick C. Wright III had ordered the trial of two brothers consolidated.

But on the Monday before the trial, Bannon said, one of the brothers went to the courthouse and was allowed to plead out before another judge.

"It wasn't Judge Wright who allowed that to happen," Bannon said.

Bannon also said he would address the issue of prosecutorial discretion, so that everything that happens in the heat of the moment doesn't have to go to court.

"This was in another county, of course, he said, but the (Thurmont, Md.) councilman (accused of slapping) his son after the boy was charged with knocking down mailboxes was charged with second-degree assault," he said.

"Maybe there's something I don't know, but I'm not sure in that particular case, the state ought to be prosecuting," he said.

Bannon said he didn't want to condone child abuse, but said that "there should some leeway that allows a parent to discipline his own child."

On Strong's plan to set up juvenile drug courts, Bannon said he would like to see a similar court for adults, too.

The idea comes from a 2000 commission set up by Maryland Chief Judge Robert Bell, Bannon said, adding that there are now 30 such courts statewide in 20 jurisdictions.

"I suggest we have an adult drug court as well," he said.

Finally, Bannon said, as state's attorney, he would work with police to clean up certain neighborhoods, including downtown, where his office is located.

"Citizens have to feel safe in certain areas. It would take a concerted effort by more than the state's attorney's office," he said.

Though he has been a defense attorney for many years, Bannon said he felt he could work well with police.

If asked, Bannon said, he believed that deputies in the courthouse judicial branch would say "they have a good deal of respect for me."

Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail. Join him on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at 1 p.m. for an online chat with Greg Bannon. Questions may be sent during the chat or in advance by e-mailing them to

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