State’s Attorney’s Race: Ivan Bates On Racism, Politics, Marilyn Mosby, and #Metoo

In the third part of our interview with Ivan Bates, who is running for State’s Attorney in Baltimore City, we talk politics, the challenges faced by minority candidates, and the #metoo movement

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Story Transcript

BAYNARD WOODS: In a city still reeling from mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and police corruption, the state’s attorney is an important role, maybe the most important role in the criminal justice system. And here in Baltimore we’re having a heated race for the state’s attorney, which is the top prosecutor, called the district attorney in many other places.

I’m here today with one of the candidates, a third part of our conversation, Ivan Bates. He’s a defense attorney, and previously a homicide prosecutor who’s now seeking the job of top prosecutor. Welcome back, Ivan.

IVAN BATES: Thank you, Baynard, thank you for having me again.

BAYNARD WOODS: In the Gun Trace Task Force trial, this was a number of officers were indicted by federal authorities and convicted or pleaded guilty to racketeering, and various other corruption, robbery and theft. And there was a leak within the State’s Attorney’s Office that told Wayne Jenkins, we’ve talked about your relation with him in the first part of our interview. What would you do to get rid of that leak? The current state’s attorney did fire someone at the same time that she said they had talked to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. But we’ve talked about this before. You don’t believe that Anna Mantegna, who was fired, was the leak, and that she was treated unfairly by the State’s Attorney’s Office.

IVAN BATES: I definitely feel that way. To me, to have information that the FBI is doing an investigation is a select few individuals. Most likely someone in the current state’s attorney’s inner circle, or division chief or division head. Anna Mantegna was nothing more than a line assistant state’s attorney. She wouldn’t have had that type of information. So no, I don’t believe that. I believe she was nothing more than a scapegoat. But I also recognize why didn’t the state’s attorney do their own investigation? The second you saw that last, I think we saw March 15, March 16 of last year, you ask for an independent organization to come and do an investigation in terms of the State’s Attorney’s Office. Why did the U.S. Attorney’s office wait so late to give them that information? I know what I heard and saw was that the judge gave a sealing order in reference to all the information that happened with the trial. So no, I don’t believe there was that conversation in that regard, because I know the sealing order’s what controls on the federal side. They’re going to wait until the case is over, then to give them that information? That’s the type of information they need to give at the very beginning.

So that concerns me, because if you know there’s a leak who’s working, cooperating with the police, and you fire this state’s attorney, that means every single case that prosecutor’s ever touched, you have an obligation now to get rid of, just like you got rid of that other officer’s cases, don’t you have an obligation now to get rid of this prosecutor’s cases? And the simple fact that they haven’t begun to do that, that tells me that Ms. Mantegna was not the leak.

BAYNARD WOODS: I mean, the State’s Attorney’s Office, there’s a lot of people in it. It’s a lot to manage, much different than managing a private law firm. How would you, if there were a leak and you were in that office, how would you go about it? I mean, we’ve seen that police can’t investigate themselves. Are you saying that the state’s attorneys should investigate themselves? Should there be an outside investigator? How do we go about cracking down on corruption, potential corruption, and the closeness between prosecutors and cops that can lead to corruption in a State’s Attorney’s Office?

IVAN BATES: There needs to always be an outside investigation. For instance, if you’re going to investigate the police, I don’t think it needs to be the state’s attorney of Baltimore City, I think it needs to be a State’s Attorney’s Office from another jurisdiction, such as Prince George’s County, because you do have those relationships. If someone in the State’s Attorney’s Office is accused of being a leak then we need to bring in another State’s Attorney’s Office from another outside organization to sit down and do a thorough investigation. The citizens have to believe in the investigation. It must be transparent. You want another individual that doesn’t, quote unquote, have any skin in this game, doesn’t necessarily have the relationships here in Baltimore City. Let’s bring them in and let’s let them do their jobs so that they can tell their citizens, hey, this is what happened, this is this case, and this is what’s going on, and this is where the leak really was.

BAYNARD WOODS: So you’ve been a vocal critic of Mosby, and she has claimed that much of the criticism directed against her is either racist, sexist, or ageist. How would you, I mean, do you think that’s true, that she has a higher bar than other people may have had because of her age or because of being a woman in that position, or because of being black in that position? How would you respond to that?

IVAN BATES: Well, when you’re black in America there’s always going to be a higher bar. And you know, I went to Howard University. One of the things that I learned was that I had to be twice as good. So I think that’s something that comes with being black and being in leadership. But I also think it’s also something that comes with experience. Some of the criticism has, maybe some of it has been unwarranted, but I think a lot of the criticism has been warranted. Because when you sit down and look at the lack of experience, if you’ve never prosecuted a case, a murder case, if you previously were an insurance attorney and you did not surround yourself with individuals who were prosecutors, then of course there’s going to be criticism.

So I think what we also have to do is sit down and, look, it appears that we have to stop pointing the fingers at everybody else, but let’s sit down and look at ourselves first. And I think when you look at yourself first and you look at your, what’s going on with your own office, then you can sit and look at other things in another light sometimes.

BAYNARD WOODS: And so, I mean, talking about looking at yourself, one of the, we have the #MeToo movement, and a lot of people are suspicious of almost all men right now, and we’re both men sitting here, and so it’s hard to understand what it would be like to be a woman in America in the same way I can’t understand what it would be like to be black in America. And one of your other opponents, Thiru Vignarajah, there’s a really sort of sordid and unseemly sting tape from the right-wing smear group Project Veritas. Is there anything that is, we’re getting kicked off with the campaign, that you feel like voters, that you want to get out of your chest, that voters need to know, or that you’re concerned about as, in terms of sexual issues in America right now?

IVAN BATES: I have two daughters. My wife had a daughter from her first marriage, and I have my own daughter. We have our own daughter. So when you sit down, I try to think about what my daughters, would they be happy with my actions? Because my actions as a man embarrass them. And I think as long as I keep that in my forefront of my mind, and how I treat women, because with my wife, look, my wife doesn’t play that. So the interesting thing is, the best decision I know I’ve ever made as a man was marrying my wife, because she’s made me a better person. She’s made me a better man, she’s made me a better husband, and she lets me look at things from a perspective that I don’t always bring to the table. So in terms of the #MeToo movement, without a doubt I understand, and you know, that’s a movement that my wife and my daughters are both behind. It supports them. But I also recognize as a man it’s incumbent upon me, in my household, to give a good example to my daughters as to the way a man is supposed to treat them, but also the way that a man’s supposed to treat his wife. My daughters need to see me hug my wife, kiss my wife, support my wife. My daughters need to understand it’s not about me, but it’s about we, and guess what, you are a superstar.

So when I do sit down and I look at so many of the elected officials that are black women, yes, what you do in terms of for my daughters to look up to, yes. But I also have to sit down and tell them, you have to make sure that you have learned the job thoroughly. So when you go out in leadership, you know, you recognize they’re going to judge you. And it’s going to be hard. But when you know the job thoroughly and you are trained, and you’re prepared for the job, let your actions speak louder than your words. And for me, that has been the motto I’ve tried to live by. And for my wife it’s really the motto that I’ve watched her live by. In terms of trailblazer, my wife is the head of diversity and equity at McDonogh. She’s the first African-American female administrator that school has ever had. So she’s there leveling the playing field. So I’ve watched her go through her career, and I’ve watched her have to be the best that she can be. She was the second African-American female to graduate from, with her doctorate in education from the University of Virginia. So I’ve watched, I’ve seen, and I’ve listened. And I do recognize it’s hard, but I’ve also seen how women are definitely champions.

BAYNARD WOODS: A criticism that some people have made, you ended up in a sort of, you were going to sue the Baltimore Sun, or maybe did sue the Baltimore Sun, over a story that they wrote that you had obstructed justice in some way because someone received some kind of payment and then said that the defendant wasn’t the person who did the thing. And they said you plead the Fifth, and you said you didn’t, and that was going to come to a lawsuit. And they took part of the story down.

So I mean, two questions about that. What happened there? And then how do you see the role of the press in covering, you know, we have this fake news and a president who’s attacking the press. So both of those things, sort of off of this thing to clear the air on that.

IVAN BATES: I did sue the Baltimore Sun, and it resolved itself out of court, in which I sound very happy. So in that regard, I guess legally that’s what I can say, but I was very, very happy. I think what I also learned was that involved a prosecutor who did not know the law. And when they don’t know the law, the average, any citizen can be harmed. That’s what I also learned. In terms of the press, you know, I went to college, it’s interesting, my degree is in journalism. So I recognize the press has a job to do. For me, I just want the press to give me a shot, to give me an opportunity, to see who I am, to see what I bring to the table. I do recognize you have your job to do. And for the press not to be biased but let the voters and the citizens sit down and see who we really are as individuals.

We need the press, and what the press does, it keeps the playing field level so that we don’t have individuals who want to, quote unquote, be dictators. I think when we sit down and see what’s going on with #45 at this moment in time, you see he’s waged a war against the press because he doesn’t want the citizens to know the truth. And this press, we need the press because the press allows the vehicle mechanism for the truth to be out there for the citizens.

BAYNARD WOODS: To clear up one more thing, people have challenged your residency. I saw you served jury duty here the other day. Does that clear it up for you? Is this issue a done issue now?

IVAN BATES: For me it’s a done issue, but no, voters, they can do anything. They filed a lawsuit. It appears to be a voter that donated to my opponent’s candidacy, so I have an understanding of where that came from, but I meet the residency requirement. I’ve been in Baltimore since 1995, I owned my first house here in 1997, I’ve been here, I voted here, I do community service here, I live here. And so there’s no doubt whatsoever that my residency and my domicile is Baltimore City. I love my city and I’m running because I love my city.

BAYNARD WOODS: And so to close out, as we were talking before, before we started filming, we were talking about various cases and stuff, and you clearly love being a defense attorney. Why give that up to be a prosecutor?

IVAN BATES: That’s what my wife asked when I told her I wanted to run for state’s attorney. It’s not about me, it’s about the people. The criminal justice system has the ability to level the playing field for everybody. It has the ability to keep people safe. If the state’s attorney was doing their job then I’m happy to stay where I am. But I’ve learned that one good defense attorney in the role of a prosecutor is better than 100 defense attorneys. Because the role of the prosecutor, we see the Fourth Amendment violation early on. We can dismiss that case and use that as a teaching mechanism with the police officer so they don’t continue to violate the rights of the citizens. And then if this officer continues to violate the rights of the citizens, that’s an individual that now we understand should not be a police officer.

So when you are running for that position, it can’t be about you, it’s got to be about the people. Running isn’t about anybody. It’s only about the people and doing what’s best for my city. My city’s in a crisis, and the way I look at it’s like this. When your city’s in a crisis it’s like your loved one’s in a crisis, and they’re sick. And on the one hand you have an individual that the citizens know. They may like this individual. But this individual has never, ever performed open heart surgery, and your loved one needs open heart surgery. They’re nice. They may even be your primary care doctor. However, there’s another individual that has 23 years of experience, done hundreds of open heart surgeries, and people come to that individual because they save lives. It’s simple. The citizens have to make a decision. You’re going to go with someone you like, who has no experience, or you’re going to go with someone who has a reputation of being with the best and saving lives. Experience. And I’m offering my experience to the citizens of Baltimore City. I’m the only individual seeing the criminal justice system on both sides. And we talk about real criminal justice reform. Look at what’s going on in Philadelphia. We’re beginning to see the blueprint about real criminal justice reform.

BAYNARD WOODS: Ivan Bates, candidate for Baltimore City state’s attorney, thanks for joining us.

IVAN BATES: Thank you. Take care.

BAYNARD WOODS: For the Real News, I’m Baynard Woods.