Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Interview: Dan Fox for State's Attorney

As I mentioned in the last post, I spent about an hour last night speaking with Montgomery County State's Attorney candidate Dan Fox. What follows are some of the highlights of our conversation based on some notes I scribbled down as we spoke [Note to self: next time you want to interview someone for more than a couple minutes, do it by email so you don't have rewrite everything!]....


My first series of questions concerned why Fox entered the State's Attorney race. The bio on his website shows that he's been a successful prosecutor, a successful businessman, etc. Electoral campaigns can be full of headaches, frustrations and challenges. What would motivate someone like Fox to take all of that on? Why did he get involved?

Fox explained that he had come back home to Montgomery County to raise his family (he is a MoCo native; graduated from Woodward High School and the University of Maryland) after an eight-year stint in Southern California. He was troubled by the rise in gang-related crimes in the area he grew up in and, based on his years as a gang prosecutor out west, he started to advocate for gang laws.

He talked to people in the community and in the prosecutors' office, and gradually came to the realization that Montgomery County was heading for trouble. The State's Attorney office "was a mess" from a management standpoint and just not prepared to deal with it.

Fox knew management. He knew prosecution. He knew gangs. He wanted to keep his kids and the neighborhoods he grew up in safe. He felt compelled to act, and so his campaign for State's Attorney was born.


Next up: What would a Dan Fox State's Attorney Office be like if he were elected? What would his top three priorities be?

Fox responded that on office he ran would be a "professional prosecutors' office." What does that mean? A case management system would be used to track and measure the work of the prosecutorial team. The prosecutors and staff would be treated fairly and there would be absolutely no political patronage. He would encourage the deputies and assistant prosecutors to form a collective bargaining unit (Fox was himself head of the Deputy District Attorney's Association, the collective bargaining unit in Riverside).

His first priority would be to deal with gangs because he feels they are the number one criminal threat to the quality of life of Montgomery County residents. He cited statistics that show local gang membership is up 66% in just the past two years, and that the number of gangs in the area has grown 40% over the same period

His second priority would be to establish "accountability" within the State's Attorney office. He pointed out that the courts use state-of-the-art technology to track cases, but the prosecutors' office apparently does not. A case management system needs to be implemented to allow for complete tracking of all cases and the daily workload of the prosecutors and staff. Managing a large staff, millions of dollars in taxpayer money, etc just "can't be done in your head" if you want to be effective, Fox said.

His third priority has changed over time, but at the moment he is concerned about the actual structure and management of the State's Attorney office. The "community prosecution" model currently being used, has been tried in the past in Montgomery County and elsewhere and has been shown to not be the most effective method to run the office. Fox cites the current distribution of prosecutors in the county and how areas with substantially different crime rates, are given relatively equal resources, rather than targeting resources where they are most needed.


Why should an undecided voter choose him on Sept 12? "Change," Fox said. "At some point the State's Attorney office needs to change" to be flexible enough to deal with the areas shifting circumstances, the increase in population (nearing a million people in MoCo) and rising crime rates. The current office seems to be "unmanaged, unaccountable."

"62% of the case are being given up" in one manner or another and that is "unacceptable," according to Fox. He says that figure (a "big hole" in his words) shows either that "too many innocent people are being hauled into court or too many guilty people are set free."


Regarding the lawsuit he filed against McCarthy, Fox said he had put up with McCarthy's false attacks at several public forums but the straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back was a recent evening newscast. He had been interviewed by the reporter, and later that evening sat down in his living room with his 5-year old and his wife ato watch the piece and was horrified that most of the segment was not his interview but video of his opponent engaging in a false, negative attack, claiming that Fox wasn't even a practicing attorney.

That event, coupled with numerous incidents on the street where voters had reiterated McCarthy's charges concerned him greatly. He was forced to spend time explaining to voters that, yes, he was an attorney and, yes, he had handled cases in Montgomery County. He felt these attacks weren't just undermining his candidacy, but the democratic process itself.

He consulted with a lawyer (he takes seriously the adage, "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client") and decided "enough is enough." He had to take a stand and made the decision to file suit.

He also sent me a copy of the actual court documents (.pdf) he filed with the suit.


Finally, I'm a history buff and one of my favorite questions to ask elected officials is who their heroes are/were. Who inspired them in their careers and why? Many times this does not directly relate to their campaign, but I find that it does offer some insight into the type of person they are.

Fox surprised me here, hearkening back to World War II and some of the leaders "who saved Western democracy." He noted in particular, Winston Churchill and General George C. Marshall. As he explained it, Churchill was a "backbencher" who recognized the perils of his time and was asked by his colleagues to lead their country. Marshall was also a "man of duty" who foresaw the coming war and prepared accordingly. He saw the job that needed to be done ahead of time, and did it. He was a master at planning, strategic thinking and management. So much so, that President Roosevelt refused to let him leave Washington to command the D-Day invasion (an operation he largely planned).


So, there you have it. Please feel free to share your own views on Dan Fox and the State's Attorney race in the comments section. I hope to also interview Fox's opponent in the near future.

Update: The Post has picked up the story of Fox's lawsuit, albeit very briefly, in today's paper. MoCo Progressive has as well.

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