Rollins’ future unclear after convictions
AG still examining Md. statutes
— 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,
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.
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.
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.