Cecil County State’s Attorney Rollins Arrested in OC for “Indecent Exposure,” Charges Pending Police Probe; Removal from Office Possible
Cecil County State‚Äôs Attorney Ellis Rollins, a current candidate for a Circuit Court judgeship appointment from Governor Hogan, was arrested on 6/22/16 in Ocean City– where he was attending a taxpayer-financed conference of State‚Äôs Attorneys– for suspected ‚Äúindecent exposure‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúdisorderly conduct‚ÄĚ allegedly involving nudity and sex acts in public view. But he was released without formal charges, on orders of the local State‚Äôs Attorney, pending further ‚Äúinvestigation.‚ÄĚ
Although the sleazy nature of the allegations has triggered a firestorm of commentary on local and state social media, the alleged incidents raise substantive questions of the facts and the locations of the alleged conduct, such as whether it occurred on a clearly visible hotel outdoor balcony, on the threshold of the balcony, or within a hotel room but in front of an un-curtained sliding door‚ÄĒfacts that could determine whether illegal conduct occurred or whether criminal charges are warranted. Nevertheless, the alleged incident or incidents raise questions of Rollins‚Äô judgment, personal behavior and whether a sense of ‚Äúentitlement‚ÄĚ — based on his family‚Äôs long history of prominence in area legal circles– may have led him to think he could act inappropriately without suffering legal consequences.
A statement from the Ocean City police department reported that on Wednesday, 6/22/2016, at about 4 p.m., ‚Äúofficers responded to the Clarion Hotel for a report of a nude male on a balcony. Officers located the room in question and ultimately took Edward D. Rollins, III of North East, MD, into custody for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure. Officers consulted with Worcester County State‚Äôs Attorney Beau Oglesby and were advised to release Rollins without charges pending further investigation. The investigation is on-going.‚ÄĚ
The Ocean City police department posts logs of arrests and a daily incident bulletin, which further identified Rollins as a white male, age 60, and listed his full name of Edward Dorsey Ellis Rollins. However, those logs did not link to an official report of the incident, although they did identify the arresting officer as G.J. Degiovanni.
The local State‚Äôs Attorney could proceed with the case, after further investigation by Ocean City police officers, or he could refer the entire matter to the State Prosecutor‚ÄĒan independent investigative and prosecutorial agency that has subpoena powers and can be asked to handle a sensitive case where local prosecutors are concerned they might have a perceived conflict of interest.
The story of Rollins‚Äô arrest was first reported by an online blog, Salisbury News/SPYNews , whose editor and publisher, Joe Albero, has been a controversial local political player and commentator in the Salisbury area for years. His report included a blurry long-distance photo of a naked man whose face was undecipherable and whose most notable feature was a large pot-belly. The report claimed to have interviewed several female eyewitnesses who said they saw a naked man engaging in sex acts on several occasions, alone and with a woman, and said they summoned police out of concerns for children being able to see such conduct clearly from the beach below the hotel room‚Äôs balcony. The blog also stated that Ocean City police officers summoned to the scene witnessed nudity from the beach before identifying the room where Rollins was subsequently arrested.
Rollins‚Äô expenditures of Cecil County taxpayer funds for himself and most of his staff to attend various resort-area conferences have triggered controversy in the past, and the fact that this alleged conduct occurred during a taxpayer-paid jaunt to Ocean City raises more questions about Rollins‚Äô use of public funds for private activities.
The current Fiscal 2016 Cecil County budget for the State‚Äôs Attorney‚Äôs office includes allocations of $12,000 for travel and $2,750 for ‚Äútraining and education.‚ÄĚ The conference Rollins was in Ocean City to attend, the annual ‚Äúsummer conference‚ÄĚ of the Maryland States Attorneys Association, was scheduled to run from June 19 to June 22, at the Clarion/Fontainebleau hotel, with a minimum hotel room charge for attendees set at $195 per night, plus 10.5% tax. The checkout time for the hotel‚Äôs rooms is 11 a.m., and since Rollins was still in his room late in the afternoon on Wednesday, it was not known if he was personally paying for an extended stay after the conference ended.
The potential and alleged offenses against Rollins, if indeed formal criminal charges are lodged, raise many issues and questions for the future of the legal landscape in Cecil County‚ÄĒincluding the fate of an open Circuit Court judgeship for which Rollins received a recommendation for appointment from an independent judicial nominating commission panel. Governor Larry Hogan will name the replacement for the recently retired Circuit Court Judge V. Michael Whelan, drawing from a list of three candidates reviewed by a regional legal panel. The governor was scheduled to interview candidates for the position in the next week or so.
In addition to Rollins, the advisory panel recommended Edwin B. Fockler IV, an assistant public defender in Cecil County. He also applied for the 2013 Circuit Court judicial seat when the court was expanded but lost out to Brenda Sexton, who previously served as the court‚Äôs domestic relations master.
The panel also supported Will Davis, Jr., an Elkton lawyer and a board member at Cecil College. If selected by the governor, Davis apparently would be the first African-American to sit on the local judicial bench.
(The advisory panel rejected the application for the post by former state Delegate Michael Smigiel (R-36), a three-time loser in recent elections, including a failed bid for a judgeship in the 2012 elections.)
Even if Rollins is not formally charged by the Ocean City police, there would be little reason for Gov. Hogan to run the risk to his personal reputation to appoint Rollins, with the public questions surrounding his recent controversy, as well as the issue of two of Rollins‚Äô sons practicing law as defense attorneys in the county in cases for which a Judge Ellis Rollins would have to recuse himself‚ÄĒthus limiting the effectiveness of a new judge in a court with a very heavy caseload. In addition, there are also questions about Rollins‚Äô professional judgment such as nepotism issues involving Rollins‚Äô hiring of another son, Kyle, for a highly-paid position as an investigator for the State‚Äôs Attorney office despite Kyle lacking police or investigative experience and being the licensee of a bar found guilty of several violations of liquor laws.
[SEE previous CECIL TIMES Special Report on Rollins‚Äô nepotism record here:
Meanwhile, the potential charges in Ocean City against the elder Ellis Rollins could have other serious consequences. ‚ÄúIndecent exposure‚ÄĚ is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In addition, ‚Äúdisorderly conduct‚ÄĚ is a misdemeanor, punishable by a sentence of 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. If an investigation by police substantiated allegations of multiple incidents involving Rollins, there could be separate charges for each incident.
But under the Maryland Constitution, Rollins could be removed as the Cecil County States Attorney even if he is not formally charged or convicted of a criminal offense. Like many other provisions of the state Constitution and its evolution since colonial days, it‚Äôs all in the commas when it comes to the procedures for removing an elected State‚Äôs Attorney from office.
The state Constitution provides that an elected State‚Äôs Attorney can be removed from office for ‚Äúincompetence, willful neglect of duty, or misdemeanors in office, on conviction in a court of law, or by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate, on the recommendation of the Attorney General‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
So it appears that a State‚Äôs Attorney could be removed from office apparently automatically upon a court conviction or through a legislative process in the state Senate for a wide variety of other reasons. Given the nature of the allegations, it would be hard to imagine senators rushing to support a public official allegedly involved in such conduct.
The state Constitution also provides that, if there is a vacancy‚ÄĒdue to death, resignation or removal from office‚ÄĒfor a county State‚Äôs Attorney, it is the judges sitting on the local bench who decide who should fill the position until the next election, when the voters would decide upon a replacement. The current Deputy State‚Äôs Attorney is Steven L. Trostle, a highly respected prosecutor, but his appointment as a replacement for Rollins would not be automatic and would depend upon the decision of the sitting judges. There are about two years left on Rollins‚Äô term of office before a new State‚Äôs Attorney would be selected by county voters in 2018.
Rollins has long displayed a sense of ‚Äėentitlement,‚ÄĚ based on his family‚Äôs history in local and state legal circles. His father and grandfather were both judges, and he has often spoken of his family ‚Äúlegacy‚ÄĚ on the bench. He saw nothing wrong with appointing his son, Kyle, to a highly-paid job in his office on the same day that the elder Rollins took office. Several Rollins‚Äô supporters or employees attacked CECIL TIMES, for reporting on the fact that he hired his minimally qualified son, in particularly virulent and at times obscene terms.
The current Cecil County States Attorney office includes 10 assistant State‚Äôs Attorneys, in addition to Rollins and Trostle. Of that staff, one new prosecutor was approved by Cecil County Executive Tari Moore and the County Council as part of the current budget, to handle prosecution of drug-related crimes.
Rollins has had several stumbles in office, including asking the county government for up to $70,000 in additional funds to prosecute an out-of-state abortion doctor whose patient suffered a medical emergency in Elkton, and he sought to prosecute for the death of the unborn fetus. But his chief medical expert witness declined to support Rollins‚Äô claims and the prosecutor had to drop the case. His office also recently lost a high-profile murder case and he has appeared before the County Council several times to ask for more money in the middle of a budget year due to his failure to obtain state or federal grants to pay for some staff positions.