Until he decided to run for Baltimore City state’s attorney, Gregg Bernstein had never considered becoming a politician. A Baltimore native who’s lived nearly his entire life in the city, Bernstein paid his own way through college and law school and started in private practice in 1982. Aside from a brief stint as an assistant U.S. attorney, he has been a private practice trial lawyer for nearly 30 years— and he says he’ll continue to try cases as the state’s attorney. As he prepared to assume leadership of the 400-person state’s attorney’s office, which he plans to reorganize under the mission “fight crime first,” Style sat down with Bernstein and asked him to reflect on his past career and future challenges.
What’s your favorite thing about being a lawyer?
I love trial work. One of the reasons I love it so much is because at the end there is a winner and a loser. There’s no ambiguity and I like that. As a prosecutor, my most memorable case was prosecuting Paul Luskin, the nephew of Jack Luskin [from the old Luskin’s appliance stores], who engaged in a conspiracy with three others to murder his ex-wife in Florida. The case was built almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of the hit men. It was a great case. As a defense lawyer, my most memorable case was defending former state senator Larry Young, who was prosecuted on bribery and extortion charges. He was acquitted.
What’s the best advice or tip you’ve gotten so far about your new job?
The best advice I’ve gotten is to be patient and manage expectations. The person who gave me that advice is Stephen Sachs, a former attorney general of Maryland, who is a close adviser and friend of mine.
Baltimore has quite a reputation as the city behind “Homicide” and “The Wire.” How do you feel about the negative publicity, and what would you do to change it?
I pursued this job because I want to change the negative perception. I think the way to change it is to improve conviction rates and successfully prosecute the small group of violent repeat offenders who commit the majority of violent crime in the city. That’s how you change people’s perceptions: by making people safe.
Have you yourself been a victim of crime? If so, what was your experience in the criminal justice system?
I was held up at gunpoint once by a group of three young men in Bolton Hill while I was in law school at the University of Maryland. It was at night and I was coming out of the grocery store. My experience with the criminal justice system was limited to being interviewed by the police officer at the scene. I had a very positive experience with him. But the perpetrators were never caught.
Are you a fan of “Law & Order”?
Believe it or not, as ubiquitous as that show is on TV, I have never seen it!