ELKTON — An administrative order by the Circuit Court of Cecil County’s judicial bench late Thursday afternoon, Aug. 9 abruptly appointed Amanda Bessicks as the county’s state’s attorney — nearly three months before she is set to officially win the elected office.
Less than a day after she was appointed Bessicks dismissed her former boss Steve Trostle and one of her former colleagues.
Bessicks won the Republican nomination for state’s attorney in the June primary, defeating two of her fellow prosecutors, but she faces no Democratic candidate on the November ballot. That combined with the fact that the Cecil County’s State’s Attorney’s Office has been run by an interim head since the resignation of Ellis Rollins III in February 2017, led the county’s judges to issue a rare order to appoint a head prosecutor early.
Circuit Court judges Keith Baynes, Jane Cairns Murray, Will Davis Jr. and Brenda Sexton all signed off on the administrative order appointing Bessicks. In their authority to do so prior to the election, they cited Article 5 Section 11 of the Maryland Constitution, which expressly excludes state’s attorneys from elected positions that must have their balloting certified prior to taking office.
Although their approval was unanimous, only Davis and Sexton presided over the 4:15 p.m. ceremony Aug. 9. Sexton said she was present on behalf of all the judges. Baynes later said that he was on vacation and supported the appointment.
Trostle, who had been appointed by the judges as interim state’s attorney following Rollins’ resignation, said he learned of the decision Aug. 9 less than an hour before it was official.
“I received a phone call from Judge Sexton thanking me for my service and informing me that the judges had decided to appoint Amanda,” he said.
Trostle, who unsuccessfully ran for Harford County State’s Attorney this year in his home county, knew that Bessicks would take over, but began to suspect an earlier switch this week.
“I’ve heard the rumors and gossip about this potentially happening for weeks and I believed it was nothing more than rumors and gossip, but I learned yesterday that the judges had the authority to make the appointment,” he said.
Bessicks said there has been a lot of talk as to how to proceed leading up to and following the Republican primary, but she said she hadn’t learned of the judge’s decision until midday Aug. 9.
When asked if she had any reservations about taking over the state’s attorney’s office prior to officially winning the election, Bessicks said she didn’t have any answer to that question.
“Mentally, I started preparing that this would be my office, but to say that I thought it would be Aug. 9, no, I didn’t think that,” she added.
Absent from Bessicks’ ceremony were the most of the assistant state’s attorneys. Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Urick, who ran against Bessicks in the Republican primary, announced his retirement several weeks ago.
Following an election in which three members of the office staff ran against one another, Trostle said he wasn’t sure if the current staff would remain as it did before.
“The staff and the personnel in that office are like my second family,” he said. “I worry about each of them individually on a personal level, but, at the end of the day, this is now Amanda’s office and she has the right and obligation to shape her office and the people who work for her as she sees fit.”
When asked if she will make any changes to the office’s staff, Bessicks said it was too early to say.
“It was sort of short notice, so we haven’t had any discussions with staff yet,” she said.
In her first official action, however, Bessicks appointed James Dellmyer as her deputy state’s attorney, the No. 2 position in the office.
“He’s highly qualified with an extensive amount of trial experience. He has been in the office, so he knows the inner-workings,” she said. “He’s definitely going to be a great ally for me, and I think he’ll be great for the community.”
Dellmyer said he wasn’t surprised that Bessicks tapped him, as they had prior conversations about her visions for the future.
“We had some preliminary discussions with the belief that it would probably be January, not Aug. 9, but Amanda has been doing a lot of planning since the primary. It’s not as if she’s going into this blind,” he said.
On the campaign trail, Bessicks said that she wanted to move the county away from part-time prosecutors toward full-time. She reiterated that goal Aug. 9 while saying it will take time.
She said that, per statute, all Cecil County prosecutors are part time, but that’s more of a human resources classification. She aims to get all prosecutors working 40 hours a week on state’s attorney business.
“In the next year I do plan to transition as many of the positions as possible,” she said. “The plan is to have them in office from 8:30 to 4:30 though. What they want to do after 4:30 is up to them.”
Asked for her assessment of the office Aug. 9, Bessicks said “there’s always room for improvement and things you can do better.”
“Today, we’re not where I think we can be,” she said. “We definitely need to do some things differently.”
Trostle was let go as soon as he showed up for work Friday morning, Aug. 10.
“I was greeted by security and escorted to my office, where there were boxes waiting for me,” he said that afternoon, noting he was prepared to oversee at least one motions hearing along with a full docket next week. “I had planned to announce my resignation for a few weeks out, considering yesterday’s news, but she decided to terminate me before I could do so.”
At the end of the work day Aug. 10, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Burnell, an eight-year office veteran who has worked a large number of the county’s child and sexual abuse cases in recent years, also was terminated. Burnell said she had finished a docket of a number of district and circuit court cases when Bessicks handed her an envelope and informed her of her dismissal.
“I am most distraught, because I have a number of cases coming up, including retrials with abuse victims,” Burnell said Aug. 10. “I have no choice now. I wish it had been more thought-out, because ultimately it will be the victims who will suffer because some of the faces they have come to trust won’t be there anymore.”
On Aug. 10, Bessicks said she didn’t believe it was appropriate for her to comment on personnel matters within the office.
“However, I do wish everyone the best in their future endeavors,” she said.
Trostle said he considered his relationship with Bessicks good up to and after the Republican primary election, which saw three members of the office staff running for state's attorney. With no Democratic candidates, the Republican nominee was to be the de facto state’s attorney.
“The day after the election, we hugged, I congratulated her and I offered to make the transition as seamless as possible,” Trostle said.
Trostle said he offered to make her deputy state’s attorney to help her get some more experience prior to officially winning the election, but she declined.
“Over the course of the next few weeks, it was my observation that she was trying to act in my place as state’s attorney,” he said, declining to discuss internal office episodes that fall under personnel privacy laws. “I called her out several times for doing so, and we had a falling out because of it. It was very clear that she and I could not work together after that.”
Considering that fact, Trostle said he wasn’t surprised that Bessicks did not decide to have him continue to serve on her staff.
“I am shocked, offended and utterly amazed that she did it immediately on her first day of work though, without allowing me to contact victims and law enforcement, clean up cases, and walk away amicably,” he said.
The new assistant state’s attorneys are Yves Archey, 48, and Michael J. Halter, 51. Archey and Halter have 13 years and 17 years of experience, respectively, as lawyers. Both have served in courtrooms as prosecutors and as assistant public defenders.
Archey and Halter started as prosecutors in the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office on Aug. 13 — the first business day after Bessicks fired Trostle and Burnell on Aug. 10.
On Aug. 27, Bessicks said she had valid and varied reasons for firing Trostle and Burnell, before explaining that she is not at liberty to discuss those reasons because employee terminations are considered personnel matters and, therefore, must remain private.
Moreover, Bessicks said she had possible candidates to replace Trostle and Burnell and that she had some time to acquaint herself with their credentials.
“After I won the election, I was approached by several lawyers who expressed an interest (in working as prosecutors) if there were any openings. I also had several resumes handed to me,” Bessicks said, noting that Halter and Archey were among them.
Bessicks said she had to take her action some five months sooner than she had planned, because of the rare administrative order that set the stage for her Aug. 9 appointment.
Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes said on Aug. 28 that, while he and the other three circuit court judges already had planned to appoint Bessicks in either late August or September, developments prompted the bench to act more swiftly. Newly-elected state’s attorneys typically take their oath of office on the first Monday in January, two months after the November general election.
“Some factors and events, which we are not at liberty to discuss, accelerated the process,” Baynes said.
Baynes said that before the June primary had even occurred, he and the other three circuit court judges had discussed appointing the Republican winner of the state’s attorney race ahead of the normal time. The reasoning, in part, was that the Republican winner in that race would be the de facto state’s attorney because there is no Democratic nominee in the November general election.
After Bessicks won the Republican primary, the judges reconvened and decide to make the early appointment — allowing Bessicks to complete the remainder of what had been Ellis Rollins’ term, who resigned his post amid scandal, before starting her own four-year term.
The intent also was for Bessicks to get a head-start functioning as state’s attorney.
“The most Steve (Trostle) could have ever been was the interim state’s attorney, because he doesn’t live in Cecil County and county residency is one of the qualifications. We couldn’t have appointed him state’s attorney because of that,” Baynes said.