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Newly Minted Attorney General Faces Tightening Budget

Christopher Connelly/WYPR

After nearly three decades in the Maryland General Assembly, state Sen. Brian Frosh officially took on his new role Tuesday as the state’s lawyer. Frosh’s move coincides with an increasingly negative fiscal outlook, which means he can expect a thinner staff than outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler.

As attorney general, the veteran lawmaker becomes the manager of what is essentially the state’s largest law firm – one he says may soon face a $500 thousand budget cut. Gov. O'Malley said Tuesday he will recommend some $400 million in current-year budget reductions at the next Board of Public Works meeting to tackle the state's shortfall.

“As I look around the office I need more people,” Frosh said. “There just aren’t people to take on the issues we need to take on, to defend the cases that we’re obliged to defend. And we could do a much better job with a bunch more people but we’re going to end up losing some folks, I’m afraid.”

Given the state’s poor fiscal outlook and a new governor pledging to cut spending, Frosh will likely have to figure out how to manage his department and meet its obligations, all with fewer resources.

Frosh chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee before campaigning for attorney general. He is widely respected by his senate colleagues and gained a representation as an environmentalist and judicial progressive. The Democrat won election with a huge margin in November, despite a wave Republican victories that swept Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan into office.

The attorney general has a wide range of duties. He represents the state and its citizens in legal matters both in and out of the courts, offers legal counsel to the government and ensures agencies comply with the law.

In his inaugural address, Frosh praised his predecessors for the activist positions they took pushing for protections for people with mental illness, making tobacco companies pay for illness and death caused by their products and pushing for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

But “we still face many challenges. And there is still much to do,” Frosh told the packed House of Delegates chamber. He pointed to gun violence, civil rights, pollution and government transparency as continuing issues facing the state. And he pledged to focus his department’s resources strategically to make improvements.

“The Attorney General is the people’s lawyer. We have a mission to provide justice, and we can make great things happen,” Frosh said.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.