By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg
The Section held its annual training in June and, given ongoing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it was virtual. There was first a panel discussion on the Supreme Court’s 2022 term, including participation from Amanda Karras, who is the director of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, and Dan Schweitzer from the National Association of Attorneys General Center for Supreme Court Advocacy.
Amanda spoke on several cases, including the City of Austin decision on content-based signs regulations. That decision clarified the earlier case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert to uphold off-premises sign restrictions if they meet what she described as intermediate scrutiny (“narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest”). Dan discussed the Supreme Court’s overturning the vaccine mandate on large employers.
A state legislative update was provided by D’Paul Nibber, associate legislative director for the Maryland Association of Counties, and Angelica Bailey, director of government relations for the Maryland Municipal League.
Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Matthew Fader, along with Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge E. Gregory Wells and Judge Laura Ripken, also spoke as a panel on practical tips on writing and speaking before the appellate courts. In general, all agreed on the importance of concise arguments getting to the key elements of a case, highlighting any key issues in oral argument, fully responding to any questions from judges, and maintaining civility towards everyone involved. The judges recognized that government lawyers are often expected to appear in multiple cases and should maintain a reputation for civility and focusing on fair outcomes.
Finally, there was a panel discussion on “Policing in the 21st Century” from Colonel David B.
Mitchell, formerly State superintendent of Maryland State Police and currently the chief of police for the University of Maryland, College Park, and Dr. Jason Nichols, an award-winning, full-time senior lecturer in the University of Maryland’s African American Studies Department as well as host of the “Underground Railroad” podcast and co-host of the “Fifth Element” show.
Col. Mitchell spoke about the current history of policing, from the emphasis of technology and prevention in the ’70s and ’80s, to higher expectations after the September 11 attacks and more civil unrest, to the returning importance of community connections in facilitating effective policing. Dr. Nichols spoke about the increase in civilian involvement in community policing, including through police disciplinary review boards, which began in the ’90s and are now expanding dramatically, including in Maryland with the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights.
While noting how police forces have become more diverse, Dr. Nichols agreed with Col. Mitchell on the importance of returning to a focus on establishing clear community connections in policing. At one point, Col. Mitchell expressed admiration for the courage of anyone, including Dr. Nichols, who raises concerns and speaks truth to authorities about police practices.
As to the new guidelines passed by the State, both agreed that policing will be possible under them. Col. Mitchell emphasized de-escalation, and Dr. Nichols focused on body-worn cameras as a method of making everyone safer, and also the importance of police officers who will testify against other officers.