Cecil County State’s Attorney Rollins Convicted on 2 Counts in Sex Case; Next Legal Steps, Removal from Office, Unclear
Cecil County State‚Äôs Attorney Edward D.E ‚ÄúEllis‚ÄĚ Rollins III was convicted of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct on Friday 12/9/16 in Worcester County Circuit Court, stemming from nudity and sex acts observed while he was at an Ocean City hotel during a taxpayer-financed visit to a state legal conference. But the next steps in the legal process‚ÄĒand whether, or for how long, Rollins can hang on to his job– are unclear.
The salacious details of the incidents are perhaps less significant than the practical problems Rollins‚Äô situation has caused in Cecil County and the image and credibility issues his sex case has raised for the county statewide, nationally and even internationally, as the matter received widespread media exposure.
Since his arrest and subsequent filing of criminal charges against him in June, taxpayers have still been paying him his regular salary‚ÄĒeven as he has voluntarily recused himself from appearing in local Circuit Courts to prosecute cases and confined himself to unspecified ‚Äúadministrative‚ÄĚ duties. As a result, the local office has been down one prosecutor to handle the many criminal cases clogging the court calendar while Rollins pulled in a regular salary and benefits.
The State‚Äôs Attorney‚Äôs office, while officially a state agency, also receives significant funding from Cecil County taxpayers. Indeed, county government approved hiring, and paying benefits and other costs for, an additional prosecutor last year because of rising caseloads of drug cases. But with Rollins off the prosecutorial roster since his arrest earlier this year, the office has in effect been down one prosecutor in all cases.
The Maryland 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 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. 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.
But what is unclear is whether Rollins‚Äô conviction automatically removes him from office, or whether the state Attorney General, or any other state entity, must formally declare his office ‚Äėvacant‚ÄĚ so that the local judges can fulfill their constitutionally-specified role in naming a temporary replacement for Rollins as State‚Äôs Attorney.
CECIL TIMES has asked the Attorney General‚Äôs office for comment on the legal situation and any plans by that office to clarify the situation or formally declare a vacancy. We will update this report upon the office‚Äôs response.
Of course, Rollins could simplify the entire process by simply resigning from office. He is due to be sentenced for his convictions early next year. It is not known whether he plans to appeal his convictions after the sentencing.
However, at sentencing, a judge could render a determination of ‚Äúprobation before judgment,‚ÄĚ granting Rollins probation that, upon successful completion of the terms of probation, would result in setting aside the convictions and preventing the convictions from being entered into Rollins ‚Äôcourt record. But even with a probation before judgment outcome, Rollins‚Äô practical and political status would seem to be untenable to continue on as the county‚Äôs State‚Äôs Attorney. Rollins is a Republican and his current term of office is up for election in the 2018 elections.
Rollins‚Äô supporters have been vocal on social media in his defense and his persistence in hanging on to his elected position, even as he was under criminal charges and had a two-day trial on four counts of criminal conduct, suggests that he will ‚Äúnot go gently into that good night.‚ÄĚ
Readers of the Cecil Whig‚Äôs on-scene accounts of the trial in Ocean City received some of the distasteful details of the sex incidents forming the basis of the charges along with pro-Rollins assertions to diminish the significance of the alleged incidents. A detailed and straightforward account can be found in the Salisbury Times reporting of the two day trial.
Day 1 coverage by the Salisbury Times (on its DelmarvaNow website) is here: http://www.delmarvanow.com/story/news/local/maryland/2016/12/08/lewd-details-revealed-cecil-prosecutor-exposure-case/95167300/
Day 2 coverage, and news of the convictions, is here: http://www.delmarvanow.com/story/news/local/maryland/2016/12/09/cecil-prosecutor-found-guilty-indecent-exposure-case/95217034/
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the entire matter is that Rollins‚Äô wife, Holly, was compelled to testify in her husband‚Äôs defense and acknowledge witnessing incidents of his masturbation directly in front of a glass balcony door.
The sexual activity, over the course of multiple incidents, was observed by several women tourists at an adjacent hotel and they contacted hotel security and police officials, some of whom also witnessed the activities, according to testimony.