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Three Jobs Puts Man on Two Sides of the Law

The Baltimore Sun via YellowBrix

January 25, 2010

Charles J. Herring has a day job. He’s the deputy chief of the Towson University police force, earning $95,558 to protect a campus with 24,000 students, faculty and staff.

Charles J. Herring has a second job. He’s in charge of scheduling security at the Bel Air Cinema Stadium 14 in Abingdon. Until last week, one of the guards included Herring’s boss at Towson, Police Chief Bernard Gerst, who makes $119,813 a year. Gerst said he quit the theater job after inquiries from The Baltimore Sun.

Charles J. Herring has a third job. He is a part-time lawyer with a home office on Legacy Drive in Harford County. Most of his cases involve divorce and civil tort claims, but he has found time to dabble in two criminal cases. In one that is pending, he represents a burglary suspect arrested and charged by deputies in the Harford County Sheriff’s Department.

“I work long hours and I work hard,” Herring told me about juggling three jobs.

Officers working for him at Towson University and deputies out arresting people in Harford County take a dim view of one of their own enforcing the law in one county and then trading in his gun and badge to defend peoplein the county next door, a union representative says.

“In this game, it’s real clear, you got to pick a team,” said Gary McLhinney, a labor negotiator and consultant for Schlachman, Belsky and Weiner, a Baltimore law firm that represents the police unions at Towson University and in Harford County, as well as others across the state. “It’s a perception that he’s not completely on the side of the good guys all the time.”

Part of this dispute is internal bickering. McLhinney said Towson officers feel that Herring gave his boss preferential slots at the movie theater to the detriment of rank-and-file cops for whom starting salaries are one-third the chief’s. Those officers, McLhinney said, “obviously realize the inherent conflict of interest in a subordinate scheduling overtime for a superior.”

But this is more than a spat between management and workers.

Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, whose office is prosecuting Herring’s client in the burglary case, said he was unaware that the suspect’s lawyer is also a sworn police officer. He said the dual roles do not necessarily constitute an outright conflict of interest but do raise troubling questions.

“It doesn’t look clean,” Cassilly said.

In a series of interviews, Herring and Gerst offered an impassioned defense, denying any conflict or favoritism. Both said tough economic times made it difficult to provide for their families. Gerst said he has a child in nursing school and another in graduate school, and that he lost $5,000 while furloughed last year as part of the state’s efforts to close a budget deficit.

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