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Online chat with Charles Strong Jr.

July 30, 2006

On Tuesday, July 25, The Herald-Mail held a live online chat with Washington County State's attorney Charles Strong Jr. What follows is an edited transcript of that chat. Our next chat will be on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 1 p.m. with Gordon Lynn, a defense attorney seeking the state's attorney's post. To send questions in advance, send an e-mail to onlinechat@herald-mail.com.




Question: What efforts and initiatives have you instituted or enhanced during your tenure with the State's Attorney's office?

Strong: We've made a number of enhancements and new initiatives, some of which are still works in progress. We have helped initiate the Truancy Initiative with the Washington County Board of Education, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the courts. This came about last fall as a result of handling truancy cases in court, where we try to assist the Board of Education.

In the most extreme hard-core cases we realized that while parents could be held responsible for younger children, the older children presented issues where the parent was doing what they could but the older children were able to manipulate the system, including just walking away after being dropped off at school.

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It was difficult to hold parents responsible for the actions of the older children. We brought together in a meeting the Board of Education, our office, Juvenile Services, judges and the public defender. The process began the Truancy Initiative Program. Earlier this year, a number of students were identified by the board as being at extreme risk.

Through the collaborative effort of these parties, the parents and the students entered into agreements. Instead of filing CINS (Child In Need of Supervision) petitions with the court, the board of education worked with these people on the issue. The key being that if the children failed to follow through, they, also, were at risk of being bought before the court. Our understanding is that a substantial majority cooperated with the program and no action was necessary. Only two had to be brought into court, where they received appropriate action. We're looking forward to continuing to work with the various agencies in a collaborate manner to keep children in school. Our experience as prosecutors shows us that the longer they stay in school, the less likely they will become adult offenders.

We are in the process of working with mediators to set up mediation as an alternative to prosecution to address those issues better handled outside the courtroom. We're looking forward to implementation within the next six to eight months.

We're proactively working with the Gang Task Force on intervention and prevention of gang-related problems and membership in the community.

We're involved in the process of setting up the juvenile drug court. This important initiative should hopefully come online around Jan. 1, 2007. Everybody, including our office, is now involved in the setting up of the program. We look forward to attacking these issues with juveniles so that ultimately we can keep them out of the adult criminal system.




Question: Why didn't you seek the death penalty against Steven Barr?

Strong: This case is a case where the facts reflected a heinous crime, but under the narrow list of circumstances in which the legislature has permitted the death penalty, this case did not qualify.

The man was killed as he lay wounded on the bathroom floor and the defendant then ran after a woman fleeing from the house, shooting her, including a final shot at close range to the back of the head. Miraculously, the woman lived.

Despite the horrific facts, it did not qualify under Maryland law as death-eligible. We did seek life without parole, which was the maximum.

This highlights the fact that the death penalty in Maryland is limited to a small number of cases, which are delineated by statute.




Moderator: Opponent Greg Bannon has said that if he were elected, there would be no "judge shopping" by defense attorneys searching for a more sympathetic ear on the bench. Does "judge shopping" go on at the present time?

Strong: There is a misperception that there is judge shopping in Washington County. What we have is a very experienced and cooperative judiciary. When one judge is tied up in trial, the other 15 cases on that docket will go down the hall to another judge, who will assist the first judge in Circuit Court.

We don't know who the judges will be until the last minute, and it really doesn't matter to whom they go. Cases are scheduled in advance before we know who the courtroom judges will be that day. I have every confidence that the members of the judiciary are fair in any case that comes before them. I have no problem taking any case in front of any judge at any time.

In the District Court, when one judge finishes early, cases are sent to the adjacent courtroom to assist.

These are examples, not of judge shopping, but of a judiciary that runs one of the most effective medium-sized courthouses in the state, according to studies.




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