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Bernice Mireku-North (D), a Silver Spring attorney and criminal justice reformer, formally launched her bid to unseat Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy (D) on Monday.
Mireku-North is campaigning on criminal justice reform, and pledged Monday to bring new ideas to the Montgomery County State’s Attorney Office if elected.
She was an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County for six years before joining a private practice in 2015. She is now the owner of The North Law Group and a criminal defense attorney.
Mireku-North has more recently headed up county-wide criminal justice reform efforts: She served as co-chair of the county’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, which earlier this year released recommendations for criminal justice reforms in the county, including promoting the decriminalization of minor offenses and providing more mental health resources in the county.
Mireku-North said her work as a prosecutor showed her the need for criminal justice reform.
“In my time as a prosecutor, I knew right away that the justice system was not equal for everyone,” she said at a virtual campaign launch event. “So I committed to … dealing with racial justice and criminal justice reform in Montgomery County.”
Mireku-North highlighted her legal acumen, as well as her reform efforts, during the campaign launch event. She attended Montgomery County Public Schools and holds degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park and Howard University School of Law.
Rizwan A. Qureshi, a former federal prosecutor and partner at the international law firm Reed Smith, said he “breathed a sigh of relief” when he heard Mireku-North was running for state’s attorney.
Qureshi said criminal justice reform needs to start at the top, and that Mireku-North could affect change if she’s elected.
“Prosecutors often follow the instructions of the leadership within their office and their hands are sometimes tied,” he said. “They have to follow internal protocol, they have very limited options outside of incarceration.”
He was particularly interested in Mireku-North’s proposal to divert minor offenders from jail and setting up more alternatives to incarceration in the county.
“Far too many people across this country and in Montgomery County are locked up for very minor nonviolent offenses and we need to change that trend,” he said. “Because that one night in jail, that one moment in jail, has a profound impact on young people across this country, particularly young Black and Brown men.”
McCarthy, who ran unopposed in the 2018 Democratic primary and has held the county’s top prosecutor position since 2007, now has two Democratic primary challengers: Rockville attorney Thomas M. DeGonia II, with the firm Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, Rowan and Hartinger, announced earlier this month that he plans to seek the nomination as well.
DeGonia also considered a challenge to McCarthy in 2017, but ultimately did not enter the race.
McCarthy may not be the only veteran big county prosecutor to face a competitive Democratic primary challenge from the left. In Baltimore County, progressives are openly discussing challenging four-term State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger (D) next year, though no candidate has formally stepped forward. Shellenberger was also unopposed for re-nomination in 2018.
In a Monday statement, McCarthy touted his “record of reform and innovation” during his tenure as Montgomery County State’s attorney. McCarthy cited various initiatives — including his recent commissioning of an external review of his own department — as evidence of his own reform efforts.
“While I may face a challenge in my re-election bid, I believe the voters of Montgomery County will choose my record over my opponent’s rhetoric, my performance over their promises and my forward-thinking vision from my years of service will prevail,” McCarthy said in a written statement.