Karl Fockler, State’s Atty Candidate, has $2 Million Debts, Wage Garnishment; Court Cites Conflicts in Brothers’ Roles in Assault Case

June 19, 2018


Karl.H. Fockler, a candidate for Cecil County State’s Attorney in the June Republican primary, is under court-ordered garnishment of his salary as a prosecutor due to court judgements for millions of dollars in unpaid debts. If elected state’s attorney, he would get a major pay boost and would be in charge of managing a more than $2.4 million annual budget, virtually all of which is provided directly by county taxpayers.

Multiple Circuit Court judgements, in Cecil County and other jurisdictions, total at least $1.8 million for unpaid debts against Fockler while another judgment against Karl Fockler and his wife, Suzanne, amounts to $473,014, bringing the total to over $2.3 million. Several other judgements or liens, including for unpaid state and federal taxes, were also filed but were subsequently listed as “satisfied,” or paid off, according to state court records.

In addition, Karl Fockler and his brother, Edwin B. Fockler IV, an assistant public defender who is a candidate for a Cecil County Circuit Court seat in the June Republican primary election, recently insisted at a GOP candidates’ forum that their familial relationship would not be an ethics or conflict of interest issue if both were elected. And Karl Fockler also claimed that in the brothers’ current jobs, the familial relationship “has not been an issue” in local courts.

However, the brothers’ relationship was a crucial legal issue in an assault case that ultimately went to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. COTAP ruled that a defendant could not be re-tried, due to double jeopardy rules, because a mistrial had been declared after a jury was seated in the case. The mistrial was declared because of a Circuit Court judge’s concerns for a conflict of interest stemming from Karl acting as prosecutor while Edwin was defense lawyer for a key witness in the case.

Karl Fockler has been deputy State’s Attorney since last year and has more than a decade of experience in the prosecutor’s office. According to Cecil County officials, his current salary is $3,648.46 per bi-weekly pay period, or $94,859.96 a year. However, court-ordered wage garnishment directives, stemming from debt judgements against him, require $615.93 to be deducted from each paycheck toward repayment of his creditors, according to county payroll records.

If elected State’s Attorney, his salary would be boosted substantially, to $143,766 a year. By state law, the General Assembly sets the pay scale for each county’s State’s Attorney, and for Cecil County that salary is currently set at $143,766, regardless of who holds the office, as elected by county voters. If Fockler wins and he gets a salary boost, creditors could seek to increase the amount of garnishment of his salary.

Fockler served in the state’s attorney office from 1998 to 2005, and then returned to the office in 2013. During his hiatus from that office, two large judgements were filed by Cecil Bank against him individually and in conjunction with investment partnerships in 2008—one for $737,712 and another for $49,087—but both judgments were listed as “satisfied” or repaid a year later, in July, 2009.

(Fockler also had a brief problem with unpaid state and federal taxes, with a federal tax lien for $2,856 filed against him 5/19/2008 but it was listed as “satisfied” on 9/2/2008. He also had a $1,322 State of Maryland tax lien filed earlier, on 9/16/2002, but it was “satisfied” on 11/19/2002.)

But multiple court judgements against Karl Fockler were imposed in subsequent years, including after his return to a prosecutorial role, and remain in force, according to court filings, which also show county Circuit Court proceedings in some of the judgement matters as recently as a few months ago.

Among the judgements are a $220,300 case brought in 2013 by the Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit ACA agency of Frederick, MD; and another $581,607 judgement brought by Cadle Rock Joint Venture, LP and others, issued on 4/10/2018 in Cecil County Circuit Court– which appears to have been transferred here after an earlier judgement for the same figure was rendered in 2014 in Montgomery County Circuit Court. In addition, there is another judgement for $1,056,218 obtained by NBRS in 2010.

And a judgement, for $473,014, was entered against Karl and Suzanne Fockler by NBRS Financial Bank in 2010, and a separate wage garnishment order was entered against Suzanne Fockler.

Other court filings show that creditors have sought to attach personal bank accounts and one filing even sought a garnishment to be placed against “property issued to Karl Fockler, personal representative of the estate of Edwin B. Fockler,” his late father who was a prominent lawyer in the county.

Since some of the active judgements involve ongoing local court jurisdiction, they raise possible conflict of interest questions about an elected State’s Attorney having personal legal cases before the local bench.

The magnitude of Fockler’s debt judgements could raise questions for voters to consider as they ponder which candidate would best manage the State’s Attorney’s office and its $2.4 million annual budget. (In the new fiscal 2019 county budget, there is only one $30,000 state grant to offset costs, and the rest of the State’s Attorney office budget is paid for by local county taxpayers, according to county budget officials.)

In an interview with Cecil Times, Fockler was candid about his financial problems, saying that he, like many others locally and across the nation, got caught in the real estate meltdown. “It hit me extremely hard,” he said.

He said that two partners in some of the real estate ventures filed for bankruptcy, leaving him “holding the lion’s share” of responsibility for the debts. He said he has steadfastly refused to declare bankruptcy, opting instead to “work through” a lengthy process of repaying the debts. “I still intend to take care of those debts,” he said.

Fockler said that voters can trust him to manage the State’s Attorney office budget efficiently, just as the town of Charlestown has trusted him to serve as the town’s treasurer for several years. He said his personal financial issues had “no impact” on his ability to prosecute cases and to manage the staff of the State’s Attorney office.

Meanwhile, a 2017 ruling by the state’s highest court undercut the assertion by Karl Fockler and his judicial candidate brother, Edwin, that there were no conflict-of-interest or legal problems both in the potential future of both of them winning election or in their past dealings as prosecutor (Karl) and assistant public defender (Edwin.)

During a recent Republican candidates’ forum held by the Republican Club of Cecil County in Chesapeake City, Karl Fockler said that, while his brother Edwin has served as a public defender in Cecil County, “we have a wall that’s set up between us.” In local courts, Karl Fockler said of the brothers’ relationship: “It has not been an issue.”

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report on the GOP forum here: http://ceciltimes.com/2018/05/rivals-for-states-attorney-register-of-wills-face-sharp-questions-judge-race-calmer-at-gop-forum/ ]

However, the brothers’ relationship was a crucial issue in a case that led to a Court of Appeals (COTAP) decision last year that a defendant in a gun “shootout” serious assault case could not be prosecuted due to “double jeopardy” issues stemming from a mistrial that was declared in Cecil County Circuit Court because of a “conflict of interest” involving the Fockler brothers.

In a 5/22/2017 ruling, the state’s highest court held, in the case of State of Maryland versus Andrew Daniel Baker, that the mistrial was not a “manifest necessity” and “amounted to an abuse of discretion” by Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Brenda Sextion. The trial judge could have considered other alternatives before declaring a mistrial, the appellate judges said.

But the COTAP opinion also raised some unusual bold-faced points to question why Karl Fockler did not inform the judge of problems with the witness that he had learned about on the “MORNING” of the 7/22/2015 trial before the jury was seated later in the day. “But instead of alerting the court to this predicament prior to commencing jury selection, ASA Fockler ‘took a chance’ by allowing the jury to be selected and sworn,” the COTAP ruling declared.

The key problem was that the witness, Darrell Ellis, was facing criminal charges in another, related case in which his defense lawyer was Edwin Fockler, the prosecutor’s brother. Karl wanted to offer the witness immunity for his testimony against Baker. But Judge Sexton felt it was a “conflict of interest” to have the two Focklers on opposite sides in the same case, and the witness could not be deprived of his right to legal counsel in deciding whether to accept immunity or to insist on his Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to testify.

The COTAP opinion included quotations from a subsequent hearing, at which Baker’s defense lawyer, Michael Halter, sought to dismiss the charges due to double jeopardy issues—an argument ultimately sustained by the high court. In the hearing before Judge Sexton, she specified that she believed there was an actual conflict of interest, not just a possible perception of a conflict, in the Fockler brothers involvement in the case. As a result, she decided to declare a mistrial in the case, over the defendant’s objections.

Karl Fockler told Cecil Times that his recollection of the case was that he did not learn of the witness’ reluctance to testify until after the jury had been seated and that he then sought to provide a grant of immunity to compel his testimony. He said he did not seek a mistrial in the case, and the judge “did that on her own.”

“I’m not going to second guess the judge,” Fockler said. But he added that he agreed with the appellate court’s decision overall.

He said the Baker case was unusual and that throughout their time in the local legal system the brothers have erected a “firewall” between them and do not appear in the courtroom on opposite sides in a case.

Ultimately, the prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute two charges against Ellis, the reluctant witness, several months after the mistrial in the Baker case. And, following the COTAP decision, the charges against Baker were dismissed, according to court records.

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One Response to Karl Fockler, State’s Atty Candidate, has $2 Million Debts, Wage Garnishment; Court Cites Conflicts in Brothers’ Roles in Assault Case

  1. Concerned citizen on June 22, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you for this article. I am glad that I voted for a man with integrity and honor.

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