Rollins’ fu­ture un­clear af­ter con­vic­tions

AG still ex­am­in­ing Md. statutes

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JES­SICA IANNETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— Af­ter be­ing con­victed of two mis­de­meanors last week, Ce­cil County State’s At­tor­ney El­lis Rollins’ fu­ture as the county’s top pros­e­cu­tor may hinge on a sin­gle vague sen­tence in the state’s con­sti­tu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Ar­ti­cle V, Sec­tion 7, of the Mary­land State Con­sti­tu­tion, state’s at­tor­ney are sub­ject to re­moval for “in­com­pe­tency,

ELKTON

will­ful ne­glect of duty, or mis­de­meanor in of­fice, on con­vic­tion in a Court of Law, or by a vote of twothirds of the Se­nate, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral.”

But no one’s quite sure how to in­ter­pret that sen­tence, in­clud­ing the Of­fice of the Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral, the state’s chief le­gal of­fi­cer. The Whig asked the At­toney Gen­eral’s of­fice for clar­i­fi­ca­tion con­cern­ing that statute on Tues­day. But as of Thurs­day evening, nearly 48 hours later, the of­fice said it was still ex­am­in­ing the statute and couldn’t com­ment yet.

Rollins, 61, was con­victed last week of one count each of dis­or­derly con­duct and in­de­cent ex­po­sure stem­ming from sev­eral in­ci­dences on June 22 dur­ing which he sug­ges­tively danced naked and mas­tur­bated di­rectly in front of the slid­ing glass door of his high-rise Ocean City ho­tel room. He was found not guilty of two iden­ti­cal charges stem­ming from in­ci­dents that were al­leged to have hap­pened the day be­fore.

Rollins is due to be sen­tenced in Jan­uary and has given no in­di­ca­tion that he would re­sign his of­fice be­fore then. If Rollins doesn’t turn in his res­ig­na­tion be­fore his term ends in 2018, it’s un­clear how — and if — he could be forced to re­sign from his elected po­si­tion.

Be­yond any pos­si­ble ac­tion by the state, Rollins could also see an in­quiry from the Mary­land At­tor­ney Griev­ance Com­mis­sion, which in­ves­ti­gates the con­duct of all lawyers for potential sanc­tions, in­clud­ing dis­bar­ment. How­ever, the com­mis­sion only in­ves­ti­gates a lawyer if com­plaints are made. The com­mis­sion said on Tues­day that it could not com­ment on whether any com­plaints against Rollins had been re­ceived be­cause all pend­ing com­plaints are kept con­fi­den­tial. The com­mis­sion pub­li­cizes penal­ties taken against at­tor­neys fol­low­ing the out­come of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

If Rollins were dis­barred or even sus­pended, it’s un­clear how this would af­fect his elected po­si­tion as state’s at­tor­ney be­cause the state con­sti­tu­tion spec­i­fies that “no per­son shall be el­i­gi­ble to the of­fice of State’s At­tor­ney, who has not been ad­mit­ted to prac­tice Law in this State.” Rollins, a Repub­li­can, has been elected by county vot­ers twice — first de­feat­ing Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Christo­pher Eastridge in 2010 and then run­ning un­op­posed in 2014.

But re­gard­less of any ac­tion taken by ei­ther the state or the com­mis­sion, Rollins’ con­vic­tion puts him in an em­bar­rass­ing and awk­ward sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially as a pros­e­cu­tor, said Ben­nett Ger­sh­man, a 40year Pace Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor who spe­cial­izes in pros­e­cu­to­rial ethics.

“I think he loses a lot of cred­i­bil­ity as a pros­e­cu­tor. A pros­e­cu­tor is sup­posed to en­force the law and this pros­e­cu­tor ob­vi­ously has vi­o­lated the law,” said Ger­sh­man, who is also a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor with the Man­hat­tan Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice. “It’s just one of those un­usual si­t­u­a­tions where pros­e­cu­tors get into trou­ble like this and have to fig­ure out how to main­tain their cred­i­bil­ity and their abil­ity to be seen as an ef­fec­tive, cred­i­ble law en­force­ment of­fi­cial.”

In gen­eral, it’s “very un­usual” for a sit­ting pros­e­cu­tor to be charged and con­victed of a crime, and Ger­sh­man said that in the few sim­i­lar si­t­u­a­tions he could think of, the pros­e­cu­tors re­signed af­ter they were con­victed.

But Ger­sh­man ac­knowl­edged that since Rollins didn’t com­mit his crimes while act­ing in his ca­pac­ity as a pros­e­cu­tor and be­cause his crimes don’t have any­thing to do with fraud or dis­hon­esty, it may make the con­vic­tion “less grave.” Still, Ger­sh­man said Rollins’s best route is likely to re­sign from of­fice, as him con­tin­u­ing to stay in of­fice and pros­e­cute cases would likely re­sult in a “very, very awk­ward sit­u­a­tion for ev­ery­one.”

“It’s a very heavy bur­den to have to carry now for a pros­e­cu­tor,” he said. “For a lawyer in gen­eral, it might be some­thing they could over­come, but the pros­e­cu­tor is the chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cer; he’s sup­posed to vindicate the rule of law.”

If Rollins does re­sign or is re­moved from of­fice, the four Ce­cil County Cir­cuit Court judges would ap­point a re­place­ment for the re­main­ing two years or so in his elected term. But part of the rea­son for the height­ened spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing Rollins’ potential ouster is that there is no ob­vi­ous can­di­date to take over the job as the cur­rent deputy state’s at­tor­ney, Steven Tros­tle, lives out­side the county and would be in­el­i­gi­ble for the role, ac­cord­ing to the state con­sti­tu­tion.

Other pos­si­bil­i­ties from in­side the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice in­clude Karl Fock­ler, who has been an as­sis­tant state’s at­tor­ney since 2013, 11-year vet­eran of the of­fice Kevin Urick and David Par­rack, also an as­sis­tant state’s at­tor­ney who pre­vi­ously served as deputy state’s at­tor­ney.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

E.D.E. “El­lis” Rollins III has served as the Ce­cil County State’s At­tor­ney since 2011, but now faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture af­ter be­ing found guilty of in­de­cent ex­po­sure.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

Pho­tographed from the beach look­ing to­ward Coastal High­way, this picture shows the Clar­ion Re­sort Foun­tainebleu Ho­tel (left) in Ocean City and At­lantis Con­do­minium (right), which are about 175 feet apart. El­lis Rollins III had a 10th-floor Clar­ion Ho­tel room, fac­ing At­lantis Con­do­minium, and the vic­tims had a 12-floor At­lantis Con­domium, fac­ing the Clar­ion Ho­tel, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

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