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State’s Attorney accused of conflict of interest

June 20, 2014
Janice Bledsoe (Jefferson Jackson Steele)

Janice Bledsoe (Jefferson Jackson Steele)

Janice Bledsoe says she was completely surprised when Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein told her on the morning of August 6, 2012, that she had five minutes to decide whether to resign or be fired.

“Gregg and I used to joke all the time,” the former Assistant State’s Attorney who investigated police corruption says. “He’d say ‘Janice, your fired.’ Oh, that’s really funny Gregg.”

Given the collegial relationship Bledsoe had with the then-new State’s Attorney, Bledsoe says she thought he was kidding. His face told her he wasn’t. She asked him why. Bernstein, she says, told her only, “You are a political appointment. You can be unappointed.”

“So when he told me ‘you have 5 minutes,’ totally stone faced… quite frankly I was trying not to cry,” Bledsoe says.

Bernstein’s driver and security man then escorted Bledsoe to her desk, where she put her things in a box. “The next day I wrote my resignation letter,” she says.

Bledsoe says she still has no idea why he did it.

The timing is curious, though.

About a week before Bernstein summoned her with his ultimatum, Bledsoe says, she had asked the State’s Attorney point-blank if he had a conflict of interest in a corruption case she was working on.

It involved two high level police officers, Robert Quick and Ian Dombrowski. The pair had been signing each other’s overtime slips, but there was a problem: By department police and contract, men of their rank (Captain now, it was called Deputy Major at the time) were not allowed to collect overtime.

“I was investigating obviously this OT issue,” Bledsoe says. “At the time the only thing I knew was Gregg had represented Robbie Quick in a past proceeding.”

That had been more than a decade before, when Quick was sued after an officer under his command shot someone in the back of the head.

In a meeting with Bernstein and his deputies, including George Hazel, who has since been appointed to a federal judgeship, Bledsoe says she told Bernstein that Quick was to be a target, and asked if he had a conflict.

“Gregg sort of paused and looked at me and said no,” she says. “I was Like, OK.”

The meeting continued. Bledsoe says she took the position that Quick’s actions were potentially criminal. He had not only collected overtime against policy, but on eight occasions he had put in for the same overtime more than once. “My position was one or two times might be a mistake,” she says. “Eight times is not a mistake.” The investigation was by no means over, but Bledsoe thought it should continue with Quick as a major target, she says.

In the vestibule outside of Bernstein’s office after the meeting, Bledsoe says Hazel turned to her: “He says, ‘you have a lot of balls.’”

The comment confused her, she says: “Why would anyone think it was ballsy to ask if you have a conflict from six or seven years ago?

“I didn’t know that Gregg and Sheryl and Robbie were friends.”

Bledsoe says she still didn’t know, two weeks or so later when Bernstein fired her, or even a couple of months after that, when he personally cleared Quick who was a key leader of the often-troubled Violent Crimes Impact Section.

“We don’t know it’s why she lost her job but you could put it together,” says City Councilman Brandon Scott, who held hearings on the matter.

Still, Bledsoe kept quiet and no one paid much notice until recently.

“Bernstein Protects Dirty Cop Who Stole From Taxpayers,” a June 19 press release from Marilyn Mosby’s campaign says.

Mosby, challenging Bernstein, has less than half the campaign funding and one-fifth the experience as a lawyer that Bernstein does. But she does have a point: Bernstein and his wife, Sheryl Goldstein, who formerly headed the mayor’s Office of Public Safety, appear to have been much closer to Quick than Bledsoe or most anyone else realized.

WBAL-TV has been digging into the story. Quick was suspended from the department last month. On June 5, citing emails the station obtained between Quick and Goldstein, the station’s reporter, David Collins, speculated that Quick had been suspended for sharing police business with her. The emails were dated after her departure from city government:

In another email exchange in May 2013, Quick appeared to make light of a crime-fighting approach known as call-ins, when offenders on probation and parole are called to a group meeting and receive warnings about the consequences of more criminal activity in their neighborhoods.

In those emails, Quick wrote, “June12 we’re doing call ins again if you want a good laugh.” Goldstein responded, “No thanks. My call in days are long behind me now. “

Call-ins are a key part of Operation Cease-Fire, the new crime-fighting strategy the city announced last week.

On Wednesday night WBAL did another story with more documents tying Bernstein and Quick even more closely together. Quick even received a draft of the press release Bernstein’s office prepared clearing him of criminal charges, the station reported.

Though the television station never mentioned Bledsoe, Mosby’s campaign has put her name in its press release, asking:

“Why wouldn’t Gregg Bernstein bring in a special prosecutor for this case? Why would he dismiss the attorney leading the investigation into Quick days before reaching a decision? He is a personal friend and former attorney for Captain Quick who looked the other way when his buddy got caught stealing from the City,” said Marilyn Mosby, former prosecutor and candidate for Baltimore City State’s Attorney.

Bledsoe stresses that she does not know, to this day, why she was fired. She also divulges, before telling any of her story, that she is in a relationship with WBAL’s best-known investigative reporter, Jayne Miller.

Miller has not worked on the Bernstein-Quick story. She says her relationship with Bledsoe has never been a secret.

After more than a week’s delay, Bernstein’s spokesman, Mark Cheshire, sent City Paper this response today:

As we stated back in 2012 when this investigation was closed, the allegations related to Captain Robert Quick’s overtime payments were exhaustively investigated by the Police Integrity Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Internal Investigations Unit of the Baltimore Police Department. The investigation took months:  search warrants were executed, interviews were conducted, all of the evidence was carefully evaluated, and a thorough investigation was completed.  There was simply no evidence then, and there is no evidence now, that Captain Quick committed a crime.  Following the investigation, the case was referred to the Police Department for any appropriate administrative action.

Bernstein’s campaign office sent its own, shorter version:

This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by an unqualified State’s Attorney candidate who has never prosecuted a murder or rape case to distract away from the critical issues facing voters like reducing crime and prosecuting violent repeat offenders.

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  • Eli

    I would like one journalist to answer me this, because I know the campaigns will not. I have seen in more than one source that Bernstein has mocked Mosby for not trying a rape or a murder case. However, it is my understanding that Bernstein was briefly a federal prosecutor and then spent the rest of his career as a federal defense lawyer, so I would like to know exactly how many rape and murder cases Bernstein prosecuted before becoming State’s Attorney.

  • William Bond

    I agree, Eli, I have asked Ed Ericson on Twitter the same question. Maybe he will look into it…
    FYI, Bernstein’s resume says he worked for the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1987 to 1992 where “… During his tenure, he successfully prosecuted violent offenders, organized criminals, and perpetrators of fraud.” I very much doubt the USAO MD had a rape case during that time, if ever, so the question is did he ever try a murder case?

  • Eli

    Thank you. I would like to know, because one of my friends was a public defender and watched him in the police kidnapping trial and said he was dreadful and awkward. Very uncomfortable in front of the jury, didn’t know when to object, etc…it did not sound like someone who had tried that many cases over the years. I have not yet made up my mind who to vote for but it sounds like Bernstein is quite hypocritical in his attacks.

  • Sheryl

    I must say, prosecuted does not mean tried. It is my understanding that something like 99% of federal cases settle.

  • Sean Tully

    Baltimore City is so screwed up that it is going to take a complete overhaul of our politics to even begin sorting the mess out. I am a life-long Democrat but I think what we probably need is some moderate Republican leaders to shake things up. I know that will never happen for two reasons: the first being that there are few moderate Republicans left in this country and because there are even fewer Baltimoreans who will vote, much less vote for a Republican.