Three months into his post as Baltimore’s top prosecutor and in the wake of a high-profile police towing corruption scandal, City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein has tapped a local attorney to head his newly minted police prosecution division.

Criminal Defense lawyer Janice Bledsoe will close a private practice she opened in 2007 to lead the police integrity unit. The department replaces the police misconduct division, a decade-old department formed under Bernstein’s predecessor Patricia C. Jessamy to prosecute corrupt law enforcement officials.

In addition to criminal defense, Bledsoe, a University of Baltimore graduate, specializes in criminal appeals, post convictions, workers compensation, personal injury and bankruptcy, according to her firm’s website. “Ms. Bledsoe is a proven trial attorney with considerable experiences as a criminal lawyer, practicing in Baltimore’s Courts,” Bernstein said in a prepared statement. “She has an exemplary reputation as a skilled attorney, and is respected by her peers on both sides of the aisle.”

Bledsoe says she’s looking forward to transitioning into a public servant role and share’s Bernstein’s “dedication to protecting the public’s interest and maintaining the public trust,” according to a statement.

Among her notable cases, she represented one of the three men charged with murdering former City Councilman Kenneth Harris. When the trial wrapped last year, her client, who had been labeled the ringleader, was the only defendant acquitted of the murder.

Bledsoe assumes her new position the first week in May.

Bernstein had campaigned to eliminate or reorganize the police misconduct unit and throw out a cop list established by Jessamy that tracked which officers had infractions and were therefore banned from testifying in court. Opponents of the roll purported the named officers weren’t allowed to be primaries on arrests, thus stifling their career options. Bernstein has opted to abolish the list and evaluate officers deemed “untrustworthy” on a case-by-case basis, according to a spokesman.

Bernstein vetted police-centered misconduct units in other cities and engaged in a “comprehensive review” of the misconduct division before creating the new department, said state’s attorney spokesman Mark Cheshire. He said evaluating the unit and improving its “communication and information-sharing with the police department” has been a high-priority since the former federal prosecutor took office.

“It is vital to maintaining public trust in our criminal justice system that the State’s Attorney’s Office acts vigilantly to ensure that allegations of police misconduct are thoroughly investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted,” Bernstein said in a statement announcing the revamped division.

Bledsoe’s unit will consist of just one full-time investigator, but Cheshire said she can request additional resources and staff if necessary.

The previous division also staffed a team of two prosecutors that solely sought legal action in police misconduct cases. The former chief, Douglas Ludwig, retired soon after Bernstein assumed office and was replaced by an interim senior-level prosecutor.

Mark Cheshire says the department will be more transparent about the outcome of police investigations and make better use of technology to track claims of misconduct.

He added that’s its new name “better reflects the mission of the division.”

Alvin Gillard, director of the city’s Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement Department, formerly called the Community Relations Office, extolled the state’s attorney’s efforts. “Any time you can provide oversight in the long run, it’s going to help,” Gillard said. “We have to do what we can to build public trust. So, it’s important that this program exists.”

A police department spokesman declined to comment on the new unit.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO