Why Does Stuart Simms Want to Be Maryland’s Attorney General?
“I’m not planning to be a potted plant,” says candidate Stuart Simms. “This is a job for a stand-up person.”
In this year’s race for Maryland Attorney General, Stuart Simms has a valuable advantage: name recognition. The former Baltimore City State’s Attorney served, during the Glendening administration, as Maryland’s Secretary of Juvnile Services and Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Now an attorney in private practice with the Baltimore firm of Brown Goldstein & Levy, he entered the race relatively late. Until Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan dropped out of the gubernatorial race on June 22, citing medical reasons, Simms was Duncan’s choice for Lieutenant Governor.
Why does Simms—a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School who could continue to command a high income as a litigator—want to be Attorney General? “It’s the most interesting and complex public legal job in the state,” he explained during a recent interview. “It involves both policy and law. I see it as an opportunity to plant footprints, and take aggressive steps in a wide variety of areas.”
Job Description for Maryland's Attorney General
While the legally mandated duties of Maryland's Attorney General are extensive (see sidebar), the office has, over the past decades, developed a tradition of activism. For example, the Maryland Attorney General’s website currently offers access to special reports on identity theft, prescription drug abuse, casino gambling, and reducing youth access to tobacco.
According to Article V, Section 3 of the Maryland Constitution, the incumbent is expected to:
1. Prosecute and defend on the part of the State all cases pending in the Appellate Courts of the State, in the Supreme Court of the United States or the inferior Federal Courts, by or against the State, or in which the State may be interested, except those criminal appeals otherwise prescribed by the General Assembly.
2. Investigate, commence, and prosecute or defend any civil or criminal suit or action or category of such suits or actions in any of the Federal Courts or in any Court of this State, or before administrative agencies and quasi legislative bodies, on the part of the State or in which the State may be interested, which the General Assembly by law or joint resolution, or the Governor, shall have directed or shall direct to be investigated, commenced and prosecuted or defended.
3. When required by the General Assembly by law or joint resolution, or by the Governor, aid any State's Attorney or other authorized prosecuting officer in investigating, commencing, and prosecuting any criminal suit or action or category of such suits or actions brought by the State in any Court of this State.
4. Give his opinion in writing whenever required by the General Assembly or either branch thereof, the Governor, the Comptroller, the Treasurer or any State's Attorney on any legal matter or subject.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is divided into several focused divisions: antitrust, civil litigation, consumer protection, contract litigation, correctional litigation, courts and judicial affairs, criminal appeals, criminal investigations, educational affairs, and securities. There are also specialized units devoted to environmental crimes, family violence, health policy, and Medicaid fraud. The Opinions and Advice unit “gives legal opinions as to the construction or interpretation of the law as it affects various agencies of the State and gives legal opinions to local subdivisions on questions involving substantial statewide interest.”
There’s also a People's Insurance Counsel Division, which deals with such areas as homeowners and medical professional liability insurance matters that are pending before the Maryland Insurance Commissioner to determine the impact on consumers and to intervene, as deemed necessary, on behalf of consumers, before the Commission or in court.
Simms praised the work of Maryland Attorney General Joe Curran, the incumbent for the past 20 years who is retiring at this end of this term. “He’s done an excellent job of stewardship,” said Simms.
“What you can bring [to the position of Attorney General] is the ability to articulate the perspectives, to get a sound result for the taxpayers," he elaborated. "The office has to be able to retool and prepare to be aggressive on new fronts, as the need arises. Legal precedents have to be balanced against state procedural requirements, and the demonstrated public interests of the state.” To be able to meet the challenges that are sure to come, he said, “you have to hire capable, trustworthy, competent attorneys. You have to have guts and talent, but you can’t do it all yourself.”
Would he strive to emulate the style of New York State’s well-known activist Attorney General Elliott Spitzer? Simms laughed. “Spitzer’s gotten prominence and exposure, but he’s not the most activist [attorney general] in the U.S.,” he said. “I’m not planning to be a potted plant. This is a job for a stand-up person.”
If he were to be elected Attorney General, Simms said his office might get involved in such areas as protections for the elderly and preventing internet fraud. “There will be new challenges of the future,” he said, “and I’m not yet ready to predict what can be done.”
Another factor more under the control of an Attorney General, regardless of budget, is the ability to form partnerships with other branches of government to get things done. As an example of this collaboration, Simms cited former Maryland Attorney General Steve Sachs’ role in assessing the state’s penal system. “There are wider issues than just prosecution and prison management,” Simms said. “The analysis of the Attorney General’s office can be used as a basis for General Assembly policy decisions.”
“I view education as a fundamental right,” said Simms. “Though it’s not a constitutional right, it is a civil rights issue that has extraordinary importance to the future of this state and this country.”
Because of his experience as Commissioner of Corrections, Simms said he is interested in expanding drug treatment options throughout the state. While the Office of the Attorney General would not be able to accomplish this directly, he believes it could be instrumental in implementing such an outcome. “Nothing is off-base provided there’s sufficient evidence in fact,” he said. For example, he said, if the legislature passes a law calling for full funding for education, then he would seek to assure that outcome. “I view education as a fundamental right,” he said. “Though it’s not a constitutional right, it is a civil rights issue that has extraordinary importance to the future of this state and this country.”
The primary election on Tuesday, September 12 will pit Simms against three other Democratic candidates: Doug Gansler (D), Montgomery County State’s Attorney; J. Wyndal Gordon (D), an attorney; and Tom Perez (D), an attorney who is a Montgomery County Councilman. Whoever wins will face off against Scott Rolle (R), Frederick County’s State’s Attorney, in the general election on Tuesday, November 7.
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This story was published on August 22, 2006.