On June 25, calls started pouring in to Doug Gansler’s office with job offers. Maryland’s attorney general didn’t need to use a head hunter to get about 60 proposals, which came from firms of all sizes, from small practices to multinational firms with thousands of lawyers.
After losing the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown by more than 100,000 votes on June 24, going back into private practice was an obvious move for the outgoing attorney general.
“It’s funny, people say, ‘What are you gonna do next? You’re gonna go be a lawyer?’ ” Gansler said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, I’ve been a lawyer since I took the bar in 1989.’ ”
On Tuesday, Gansler announced he’ll be joining BuckleySandler LLP when his term is up in January, and Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh takes over. Gansler will be a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, where he will work in its government enforcement and litigation practices and also help clients comply with and manage regulations on issues such as consumer protection, cybersecurity and privacy.
“I’ll do what lawyers do,” he remarked.
At a recent law symposium, Gansler said life in his office is just business as usual as he enters the final months in his eight-year tenure as Maryland’s chief lawyer.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for 22 years, and in two months, I won’t have that [identity],” Gansler told a crowd of law students at the symposium, hosted by the University of Baltimore School of Law last week.
The attorney general was there to debate the use of DNA in criminal law. Facing two opponents of the widespread use of DNA databases, Gansler looked right at home arguing on the side of the government.
In the past couple of weeks, Gansler said proudly, his office released a plan to reduce sexual violence on public and private college campuses in the state of Maryland and has taken the position in favor of rescinding the death sentences of Maryland’s four remaining death-row inmates and keep them in prison for life. Though he adamantly defends that proposal, it drew criticism from victims’ families.
Confronted with a complicated problem, and no decided-upon protocol tied to the 2013 law abolishing the death penalty in Maryland, Gansler said he had to make a judgment call and “do the right thing.” The governor’s office has the power to convert the death sentences to life without parole, but outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley has taken no such action to date.
Gansler is also working on transitioning his office to Frosh. With 56 divisions of the office, there is a lot for Frosh to learn, but Gansler said he’s confident in his successor and that Frosh’s character, ethics and judgment will make him a great attorney general.
“He’ll be literally enforcing many of the laws that he’s helped draft,” said Gansler. “I don’t get the sense at all that he’s coming in with some sort of political agenda or political motivation.
“He’s a menschy guy,” added Gansler. “He’ll do well.”
Gansler’s two-term tenure included the establishment of the Office of the Attorney General’s first Gang Unit; appointments of the first director of Civil Rights and the first Special Assistant for the Environment; major mortgage settlements; digital privacy initiatives; and the outgoing attorney general’s landmark opinion on same-sex marriage, which made him the first statewide elected official to publicly support marriage equality.
Prior to becoming Maryland’s attorney general, he served as Montgomery County’s State’s Attorney, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and as a civil litigation attorney in private practice.
In an interview, Gansler – whom some political observers have already named as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018 – highlighted his work on recent mortgage foreclosure settlements that resulted in more than $1.7 billion in consumer relief and assistance, restricting the sale of mixed caffeinated alcohol beverages such as Four Loko, and his role as president of the National Association of Attorneys General from 2012 to 2013.
“I think we really elevated the national discussion around the issue of privacy in the digital age,” he said of his tenure at the organization.
As Gansler enters the private sector rather than the governor’s mansion, he said he’s not spending any time worrying about what he could have done differently in the primary, which he said was stacked against him from the start.
“I don’t think that Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy could have won the primary I was in,” Gansler said in a serious tone, “given the landscape and given the establishment and the entire Democratic machine just wanted to coordinate the lieutenant governor as the next governor.”
And he isn’t surprised, he said, that Republican Larry Hogan ultimately won the general election. He said he tried telling people that Brown on the ballot would mean losing the governor’s race as well as other offices all over the state. Like Hogan, Gansler drew attention to the “tax burden and the economic malaise the state is in.
“You can’t be the 49th state in economic growth, in personal income growth, having jobs fleeing the state on a daily basis with an increasingly depleted tax base, yet continue to raise taxes 40 straight times, if not more, and think that’s the panacea for the economic problems of the state,” he said. “And people obviously got that, and so I wasn’t surprised at all that the Republicans won.”
He also thinks Brown’s negative campaigning – which he said attempted to define Hogan and failed to truly define what Brown stood for – also played a role in the outcome.
Although his attention is shifting to his new job, it’s difficult for Gansler to imagine a future without public service.
“I love politics,” he said. “I really believe that government can and should help people. I’ve been involved in politics since I was 13 years old, and it’d be difficult to imagine not staying engaged or involved.”
John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University, said that Maryland voters have probably not heard the last of Gansler. It’s more difficult to remain in the public spotlight while out of office, he pointed out, but he still has name recognition, and his positions did resonate with segments of the electorate.
“I don’t think he’s done. I anticipate there’s more things he’d like to get done in elected office,” said Bullock. “I’ll be as
interested as anyone else to see what happens.”
Marc Shapiro is senior reporter and Heather Norris is a staff reporter for WJW’s sister publication, the Baltimore Jewish Times.