UPDATE: Sheriff’s Campaign Finances

September 9, 2010

    Cecil Times has published multiple reports on the campaign finances of the crowded field of candidates running in the Democratic and Republican primaries for Cecil County Sheriff. Here is a brief update on where the candidates’ finances stand as of the most recent reports to the state Board of Elections, filed Sept. 3.

Democratic Primary Candidates:


 He raised an additional $14,688 since his last campaign finance report. After expenses of $8,978, plus a carry-over balance of about $24, he ended up with $5,684 cash in the bank.  Most of his funds came from another golf fundraising event.

 But he also had several large donations, the largest of which was $1,250 from Sentman Distributors in Elkton. He also had several donations from businesses in the southern part of the county, including $500 from TD Enterprises in Earleville, $400 from First Choice Concrete in Earleville, and a $300 donation from the Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City.

Republicans contributing  $440 each for entry fees for the golf event included Chris Zeauskas, whose campaign in the GOP primary for 2nd District county commissioner previously received donations from Democrat Sutton;  Michael Halter, a GOP primary candidate for State’s Attorney; and Will Davis, who ran as a Republican candidate for State’s Attorney four years ago. Halter and Davis also participated in an earlier golf fundraiser.


   He raised an additional $1,200, and had expenses of $1,537.  His largest expense was $1,095 for a full page ad in the Cecil Whig. 

   Adding in his $2,231 carryover bank balance from his last report, he ended up with $1,894 cash in the bank.

   DeWitt’s fundraising came from individual and business donors, with no new fundraising events. White Horse Apartments in Perryville contributed $400 while Wright’s Auto in Elkton gave $300.


  The last-minute entrant into the Democratic primary had been all but invisible on the campaign trail but surfaced with a fundraiser event in Port Deposit. But the $2,056 costs of the event were more than the $1,985 it raised from  ticket purchases.  Gerczak, a former Baltimore City police officer, received a $500  Political Action Committee donation from the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore City Lodge 3.

  He had no campaign printing expenses but did receive an in-kind donation of $300 worth of signs and pamphlets from Donald Allen of North East. He has $429  cash on hand in his bank account.

Republican Primary Candidates:


The pre-primary campaign finance report that was due to be filed Sept. 3 has not yet been filed, according to the state Board of Elections website. The Board has assessed a late fee/fine of $40 as of Thursday, Sept. 9.


   Slater continued to pick up the pace of his campaign, with new fundraising and contributions totaling $3,785 since the previous pre-primary report he filed in early August. Most of his funds came from a dinner he hosted at the Hack’s Point fire hall in Earleville. Despite the southern Cecil County location of the event, most of the ticket purchasers were from the northern part of the county, as well as purchasers from Pennsylvania and Harford County. However, direct donations to his campaign in the latest report showed the largest sum, $300, came from an Earleville resident, Pat Smart.

  After expenses of $1,986,  and a carry-over bank balance from his last campaign finance report, Slater had  net proceeds of $1,868 cash in the bank.


   He contributed another $120 to his own campaign, and after spending $307 on a newspaper ad, had just $33 cash in the bank.

State’s Attorney Contest Gets Heated: UPDATE

June 8, 2010

   The campaign for Cecil County State’s Attorney could be one of the more interesting, and heated, races to watch this year as incumbent Christopher Eastridge and potential challenger Michael Halter– Eastridge’s former deputy– square off, as they did in separate interviews with The Cecil Times on Monday.

    Halter criticized his former boss for not giving prosecutors in the office more “discretion” in handling felony cases, deciding which cases stand the greatest chance of successful prosecution at trial and which cases should be handled with plea agreements. Eastridge shot back that Halter’s  criticism was unfounded and said of his former deputy:  “The position went to his head.”

   As The Cecil Times reported Sunday,( article linked here:   https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/michael-halter-files-to-run-against-chris-eastridge-for-states-attorney/ )  Halter filed his candidacy as a Republican last week and a day later, Eastridge filed for re-election as a Democrat. So far, Eastridge is unopposed in the Democratic primary while Halter will face longtime Elkton attorney Ellis Rollins III in the Republican primary. Rollins filed his candidacy last summer but is also seeking a gubernatorial appointment to a vacant Circuit Court judgeship.

  Halter and Eastridge insisted Monday that there was no attempt to orchestrate a challenge to Rollins in the GOP primary as a maneuver to possibly weaken the well-known Rollins for a potential match-up with Eastridge in a general election contest.  And given their comments about one another, it seems clear that Halter and Eastridge are ‘in it to win it.’

  Halter said he did not speak to Eastridge about his plan to run– “That’s just not something you would do with Mr. Eastridge”– but had talked with fellow Republican Rollins twice about his intent to run. “He  urged me not to run,” Halter added.

   Eastridge said it was “well known” that he planned to file for re-election and that it was simply a coincidence that both men filed within a day of each other. “It is not anything I’ve engineered,” Eastridge said.

   Halter said that a key issue in his campaign will be the need for more “discretion” for prosecutors to determine which cases should be brought to trial and which cases should be dealt with through a plea agreement. He said that the “excellent” staff attorneys in the office should be listened to more but now “every case is his,” he said of Eastridge. There were cases that staff felt were too weak to go to trial, but Eastridge insisted on taking them to court “and then these cases fell apart at trial,” Halter said.

    Eastridge countered that “I reserve to myself an appropriate level of authority” to determine which cases should go to trial. He said he consults with staff attorneys and seeks their views in such decisions. “I am not so obsinate as to be unwilling to see the potential pitfalls in certain cases,” he said.

   However, since most of the prosecutors are part-time, “we can’t have a staff meeting every week,” Eastridge noted.

   Halter joined the office as a part-time prosecutor in 2004 and went to full-time status in 2005. He was appointed Deputy State’s Attorney– the number two job in the office– in 2007, to replace the retiring David Parrack. Halter resigned his post in the fall of 2009. He said he decided to leave the office because “Chris controlled everything” and  prosecutors were “forced to try cases I did not think were winnable.”

   Eastridge shot back that Halter “has to accept responsibility” for his own cases and that in one case he reviewed after Halter left, the loss “could have been a question of appropriate instructions to the jury.”

    Both men explained that the heavy caseload requires prosecutors to make difficult decisions on which cases to fight at trial and which cases are best resolved through plea agreements. State speedy trial rules complicate such decisions. Eastridge estimated there are about 400 felony cases a year stemming from grand jury indictments or filing of criminal information documents, and such serious cases are top priority. Another 1,200 cases a year, many of lesser seriousness, are bumped up to Circuit Court when defendants refuse to resolve them in District Court and “pray” a jury trial at the higher court level.

   Eastridge said he “personally reviews” the serious felony cases stemming from indictments before decisions are made whether to take it to trial or seek a plea agreement.

    Halter said another key issue in his campaign would be the nature of plea agreements, which he said should be “binding” in most cases so that a defendant cannot come back a short time later and seek sentence modification from the original judge or subsequent diversion to non-jail programs, such as drug treatment. Halter has been critical of some judges for watering down punishment after a defendant only served a small portion of the original sentence.

    Both men are experienced, knowledgable prosecutors and a November general election campaign would be an interesting education on the law for citizens. But first Halter has to convince voters that he is the better GOP candidate than Rollins, who is an experienced trial attorney but has not been a prosecutor. The Rollins family name is legendary in local legal circles, since both his father and grandfather served as Circuit Court judges.

    Rollins is also still on a list of candidates recommended to the Governor by a judicial nominating commission for a seat on the local Circuit Court bench. One seat is currently vacant and another will be vacated this fall when Judge O. Robert Lidums retires.

    Eastridge applied for a judgeship but was passed over by the nominating panel earlier this year. “I think there was personality politics at work there,” Eastridge said of the panel’s decision. He declined to elaborate.

   Eastridge was elected State’s Attorney in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. He is a graduate of Washington College and received his law degree from the University of Virginia. He also served as deputy State’s Attorney in Kent County from 1999-2002.

    Halter is a graduate of the University of Delaware, with a degree in criminal justice, and holds a master’s degree in criminal justice administration. He received his law degree from Widener University. He and his wife, Megan, have two young children and live in the Fair Hill area.

Michael Halter Files to Run Against Chris Eastridge for State’s Attorney

June 6, 2010

   Michael J. Halter, a veteran Deputy State’s Attorney for Cecil County, has filed as a Republican candidate for State’s Attorney to run against incumbent Democrat Christopher Eastridge, who appointed Halter as his deputy. Halter was once quoted as saying he would never run against Eastridge.

  Eastridge suffered an embarrasing slap in the face from the judicial nominating commission several months ago when he was passed over for recommendation to the Governor for an appointment to the Circuit Court to replace the retired Judge Dexter Thompson. The Governor recently appointed Democrat V. Michael Whelan, a veteran trial attorney and former assistant State’s Attorney, to the judgeship.

  Eastridge just filed for re-election as State’s Attorney on June 2, one day after Halter filed as a Republican candidate for the job, according to state Board of Elections records.

  To compound the political complexities, E.D.E. “Ellis” Rollins III filed as a Republican candidate for State’s Attorney last summer, so Halter and Rollins would face each other in the GOP primary. But Rollins has also hedged his political bets by applying for a judicial appointment. Although Rollins was passed over for the Thompson seat, Rollins remains on the recommended list for one other current vacancy on the Circuit Court, and yet another seat will be vacated in the fall with the upcoming retirement of Judge O. Robert Lidums.

 Rollins is a political newcomer, as is Halter. But as a Republican, Rollins’ chances of getting a judicial appointment from a Democratic governor seeking re-election this year seem slim. Although Rollins has not run for political office before, his grandfather served as the county’s State’s Attorney, state Attorney General and Circuit Court judge, and his father was also a  Circuit Court judge.

 Halter was a full-time prosecutor for much of his tenure with the local State’s Attorney’s office, unlike many of the assistant state’s attorneys who work on a part-time basis as prosecutors while handling civil matters in private practice. Halter joined the office in 2004 and was appointed the Deputy State’s Attorney by Eastridge in 2007, after the retirement of the long-time Deputy, David Parrack.  At the time of his appointment, Halter was quoted in an interview with The Cecil Whig as saying he would “never” run against Eastridge, although he expressed interest in the State’s Attorney job if his boss decided to leave and do something else.

  With a judgeship pass-over by the nominating commission, Eastridge has put his political future on the re-election block.  

  But this is, after all, Cecil County and all things political are often not quite what they seem. Halter’s entry into the GOP primary means that Rollins will have a very credible challenger. The Rolllins family name is golden in the county and Rollins has been a trial attorney but not a prosecutor, while Halter would bring intensive prosecutorial experience to the top job. An aggressive primary campaign could rough up Rollins even if he wins, giving Eastridge an advantage in a general election match-up with Rollins. But if Halter wins the Republican primary, it would set up an intriguing boss-deputy contest, assuming that Halter would want to criticize his former mentor.

   But Halter has not been shy about criticizing some Cecil County judges. He drew some fire in the past for openly criticizing what he saw as  unwarranted leniency toward defendants by some judges, especially Judge Thompson.

Halter has set up a private law practice website, http://www.myelktonlawyer.com/home.html on which he touts his experience prosecuting over 2,000 cases with the State’s Attorney’s office but also emphasizes his skills as a criminal defense attorney who “knows the weaknesses of the State’s case” and would “get the best results for his clients.”  It could not be confirmed Sunday when he left his position as deputy to Eastridge.

  The Cecil Times has left phone messages for Halter and will update this report accordingly. Eastridge could not be reached for comment Sunday, with phone listings reported as disconnected.

NEWS UPDATE: The Cecil Times interviewed both men on Monday and posted a new article on their comments. The story is here: