ELECTION: Amanda Bessicks Wins State’s Attorney Office

June 26, 2018

Amanda Bessicks, a first-time political candidate who promised to shake up the State’s Attorney’s office and make it more responsive to crime victims, won in a three-way contest in Tuesday’s Republican primary. There was no Democratic candidate in the race.

Bessicks, 34, has been prosecuting cases involving crimes against children since January and was been a prosecutor for four years. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware and the Widener University Law School and served as a law clerk in the local Circuit Court before joining the State’s Attorney’s office.

Despite being a newcomer to local politics, Bessicks drew strong support from victim advocates, especially the family of Terri Ann McCoy, who was brutally murdered in a Chesapeake City home invasion several years ago. She was also endorsed by the Republican Club of Cecil County.

Other candidates in the race were Karl Fockler, deputy State’s Attorney since last year and a more than ten-year veteran of the office; and Kevin Urick, a prosecutor with over 12 years’ experience in Cecil County and previously a Baltimore City prosecutor for over 15 years.

With all but two precincts reporting, Bessicks won 50.5 percent of the vote. Fockler drew support from31.9 percent, and Urick received 17.6 percent.

Since no Democrats filed for State’s Attorney, the winner of the GOP primary becomes the defacto State’s Attorney, appearing unopposed on the November general election ballot.

The final outcome of the Republican primary will be certified on July 6, after the counting of absentee and provisional ballots. There were 198 GOP absentee ballots requested by voters and those that are returned will be counted in two tallies, on June 28 and July 6. Provisional ballots will be counted July 5. Provisional ballots may be higher than usual this year due to a computer glitch at state Motor Vehicle Administration kiosks and its website for voters changing their address or party affiliation.

But Bessicks’ commanding win of over half of all votes counted so far, in a three way contest, assures her of victory. She will be the first woman to hold the office in Cecil County.

During a candidates’ forum held by the Republican Club of Cecil County, Bessicks called for some major changes in the SA office, saying she would end the current policy of employing mostly part-time prosecutors who are free to conduct civil law practices on the side. “Part-time doesn’t cut it,” she said. Shifting part-timers to full time work requirements would increase “accountability” without having to ask the county to pay for hiring “additional bodies” that would boost costs to taxpayers.

Urick said the office was short-handed, and “We need bodies. I don’t care if they are full-time or part-time.”

Fockler said that full-time prosecutors “is certainly the way to go” for new hires, but he said he did not want to be “handcuffed” to full-timers alone because some current part-timers who were highly skilled as prosecutors would be reluctant to do the job if they could not also have a private practice.

Some critics of the current system claim that part-timers may agree to plea bargains to clear their caseloads quickly and free up their schedules to do outside civil work.

Bessicks said that about 90 percent of Circuit Court cases brought by the SA office are now resolved with plea deals. “We’re pleading good cases and that is not acceptable to me,” she said at the forum.

Urick had come under fire from some victim’s advocates who thought he was insensitive to their concerns, while other domestic violence victims said he had effectively prosecuted abusers to safeguard victims.

Fockler highlighted his long experience as a prosecutor and said he would be an effective leader. However, he had also compiled a history of over $2.3 million in unpaid debts, from failed real estate ventures, and a Court of Appeals ruling raised questions about conflicts of interest in a case in which he was the prosecutor and his brother, Ewin B. Fockler IV, was the defense attorney for a key witness. [SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2018/06/karl-fockler-states-atty-candidate-has-2-million-in-debts-wage-garnishment-court-cites-conflicts-in-fockler-brothers-prosecutingdefending-in-assault-case/

The new top prosecutor will have the task of rebuilding an office that was rocked by scandal, when former State’s Attorney Edward D.E. “Ellis” Rollins was convicted on two charges stemming from an indecent exposure incident at an Ocean City hotel during a convention of State’s Attorney office leaders from around the state. Rollins resigned shortly before his sentencing.

For the past year, the office has been headed by an interim State’s Attorney, Steve Trostle, a Harford County resident who is running for the top prosecutor post in that county in Tuesday’s election. [UPDATE: Trostle came in last in a four-way race for the Republican nomination in Harford county, with just 9.1 percent of the vote]

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