Bernice Mireku-North (D), a lawyer in Silver Spring and criminal justice reformer, officially launched her candidacy on Monday to overthrow Montgomery County State Attorney John J. McCarthy (D).
Mireku-North is campaigning on criminal justice reform and pledged Monday to bring new ideas to the Montgomery County State Attorney’s Office if elected.
She was Deputy State 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 lawyer.
Mireku-North recently led county-wide criminal justice reform efforts: she served as co-chair of the County Task Force on Reinventing Public Safety, which released earlier this year recommendations for county criminal justice reforms, including promoting the decriminalization of petty offenses and providing more county mental health resources.
Mireku-North said his work as a prosecutor showed him the need for criminal justice reform.
“During my tenure as a prosecutor, I immediately knew that the justice system was not equal for everyone,” she said during a virtual campaign launch event. “So I made a commitment to… deal with racial justice and criminal justice reform in Montgomery County. “
Mireku-North highlighted his keen sense of the law, as well as his reform efforts, at the campaign launch event. She attended Montgomery County Public Schools and graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, and Howard University School of Law.
Rizwan A. Qureshi, former federal prosecutor and partner at international law firm Reed Smith, said he “breathed a sigh of relief” when he learned that Mireku-North was running for prosecutor.
Qureshi said criminal justice reform must start from the top and Mireku-North could affect change if elected.
“Prosecutors often follow instructions from leaders in their office and sometimes their hands are 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 juvenile offenders from prison and to develop more alternatives to incarceration in the county.
“Far too many people across this country and in Montgomery County are locked up for very minor non-violent offenses and we need to change that trend,” he said. “Because a night in prison, that time in prison, has a profound impact on the young people of this country, especially young black and brown men. “
McCarthy, who ran unopposed in the 2018 Democratic primary and served as the county’s supreme attorney since 2007, now has two main Democratic challengers: Rockville attorney Thomas M. DeGonia II, with firm Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, Rowan and Hartinger announced earlier this month he also plans to seek the nomination.
DeGonia also envisioned a challenge for McCarthy in 2017, but ultimately did not participate in the race.
McCarthy may not be the only veteran major county prosecutor facing a competitive Democratic lead challenge from the left. In Baltimore County, Progressives are openly discussing the challenge of four-term State Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger (R) next year, although no candidate has officially come forward. Shellenberger was also unopposed for a new appointment in 2018.
In a statement on Monday, McCarthy touted his “record of reform and innovation” during his tenure as state attorney for Montgomery County. McCarthy cited various initiatives, including his recent order for a external examination of his own ministry – as proof of his own reform efforts.
“While I may face a challenge in my candidacy for re-election, 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 of my years of service will prevail, ”McCarthy said in a written statement.