Cecil County State’s Attorney Hired Son for Job Same Day Dad Sworn in; Primary Campaign Challenger Questions Nepotism
Cecil County Stateâs Attorney E.D.E. (Ellis) Rollins III, who is seeking re-election to his post, hired his son as an investigator– who began work the same day his father was sworn into office– although he lacked the law enforcement experience of previous occupants of the position. The hiring has become an issue in the current Republican primary campaign.
Ellis Rollinsâ son, Kyle Rollins, was hired as an investigator in the Stateâs Attorney office on 1/3/11, according to county Human Resources Director Donna Nichols, who said his current salary is $53,664. He is scheduled to receive a 4.75 percent pay raiseâincluding a 1.75 percent cost-of-living increaseâeffective 7/1/14, she added.
The Stateâs Attorneyâs office receives funds from Cecil County government as well as the state but its personnel policies come under the county governmentâs HR office, Nichols said. The county has an anti-nepotism policy regarding the âemployment of relativesâ but Nichols said it was determined that the elder Rollins would not be directly supervising his son.
The elder Rollins told Cecil Times that there was an appellate court case that was âon pointâ that indicated there was no conflict in hiring his son for the position. He said he notified county officialsâincluding former County Commissioners president James Mullinâshortly after the November 2010 election of his intent to hire his son. Rollins said that while some employees of his office were subject to the countyâs HR policies, âat willâ employees including investigators were not covered by that policy and only subject to the States Attorneyâs discretion.
His son, Kyle Rollins, is assigned as an investigator to assist law enforcement officers in their court cases in the District Court, and he is directly supervised by Rich Achuff, a former state trooper assigned as the Stateâs Attorney officeâs investigator for the Circuit Court. (The previous District Court investigator was also a former state trooper.)
Kyle Rollins, who is a high school graduate, holds the county liquor license for the Alibi Inn in Warwick. In 2009, Kyle Rollins and another Rollins family member were among the licensees when the county liquor board fined them $1,000 plus $250 in costs for serving alcohol to an under-age person. During the hearing on the case, a board member noted it was the second time in a year that an underage drinking case had been filed against the establishment. In 2011, the liquor license was transferred to Kyle Rollins and he is currently listed as the sole licensee, county liquor board officials said.
The elder Rollins was elected in the November 2010 election, after defeating incumbent Christopher Eastridge, a Democrat, in a fiercely contested campaign. Rollins was sworn into office on 1/3/11. His sonâs hiring date is the same.
Rollins is seeking re-election this year and is facing a challenge in the Republican primary from Michael Halter, a former assistant stateâs attorney who also ran against Rollins in 2010 but lost in the primary.
Halter said the hiring of Kyle Rollins raises nepotism questions but broader qualification issues are more significant. âIf he was a former police officer and the Stateâs Attorneyâs son, I wouldnât raise the issue,â Halter said. âBut Kyle is simply not qualifiedâ for the position, he added. Halter said he and several others in the office met with the elder Rollins shortly after his son was hired at which questions of Kyleâs competency for the position were raised.
The elder Rollins said in an interview with Cecil Times that he recalled no such meeting taking place, and stated he believed his son is qualified because he worked for him in his private law practice for several years as an investigator.
Ellis Rollins counter-charged that he fired Halter as an assistant Stateâs Attorney after three warnings about Halterâs personal postings on social media that Rollins felt reflected badly on the prosecutorâs office. One of the postings, Rollins said, made critical comments about Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36).
The lack of law enforcement experience and the salary of the younger Rollins have raised some concerns among law enforcement officers, many of whom are paid much less for dangerous, life-threatening duties. Sheriff Barry Janney has testified at recent County Council budget hearings that he starts all new deputiesâincluding police officers with decades of experience in Baltimore City and other area police agenciesâat a meager $39,000 a year.
Some veteran law enforcement officers bringing a case to District Court are concerned that they have to deal with an investigator without the law enforcement training and experience they have.
The elder Rollins expressed surprise at his sonâs salary, saying he was unaware of it and that his sonâs supervisor ânever had a conversation with me about it.â
Although county liquor board issues are usually handled in an administrative forum, if any issues ended up in court– as they sometimes doâthe elder Rollins said that any issues involving his sonâs liquor license would be referred to an independent counsel, âjust as I would do for anything involving any member of my family.â
Meanwhile, former county attorney Norman Wilson told Cecil Times he was never asked for a legal opinion on the hiring of Rollinsâ son during that time.
Ellis Rollins said that he relied upon an appellate court ruling regarding Kyleâs situation and also obtained advice from the state Attorney Generalâs office regarding the handling of cases involving his other lawyer sons who might be defense lawyers in cases brought by the Stateâs Attorneyâs office coming before the local courts. The AGâs opinion specified procedures to ensure there was a wall between the Stateâs Attorneyâs office and any cases handled by Ellis Rollinsâ lawyer sons, the elder Rollins said.
Meanwhile, state Board of Elections campaign finance records show that challenger Halter is running a bare-bones campaign while Rollins has received substantial donations that have financed a billboard, flyers, and road signs.
Halter has filed affidavits declaring that he has neither raised from contributors nor spent on expenses more than $1,000 since filing his candidacy. Rollinsâ campaign finance reports show multiple large donations and printing, yard sign and billboard expenditures.
Rollinsâ campaign finance reports show some significant contributions on his two most recent filings with the state Board of Elections. Rollins pre-primary 1 report, filed 5/17/14, listed contributions of $7,550. His most recent pre-primary 2 report, filed 6/13/14, listed additional contributions of $2,200. After printing of flyers, yard signs and the usual campaign expenses, Rollins still had $6,438 in his campaign warchest for the final days of the GOP primary campaign.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will be the ultimate victor. Democrats have not fielded a candidate for the November general election.