By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Aug. 30, 2018) Worcester County State’s Attorney Elect Kris Heiser on Monday took the occasion of a Berlin Town Council meeting to introduce herself to town officials and the audience.
Heiser is an Ocean City resident who had been working for the Wicomico County State’s Attorney office. She is also familiar with this county’s state’s attorney office, having served from 2008 to 2011 under former Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd.
She takes office Jan. 7, 2019.
Among her priorities is participation in the newly formed Regional Veterans Treatment Court based in Dorchester County and overseen by District Court Associate Judge Melvin J. Jews. The program serves Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.
According to a release from the Maryland Courts, “The regional veterans treatment court will provide treatment, accountability, and mentoring to former military service members, while helping connect veterans who are involved with the justice system with the benefits they have earned.”
Heiser said the program would offer “many benefits to our veterans who are in need,” including assistance in finding federal, state and local resources.
“Of all the people that the court system interacts with and provides services for, I think obviously they should be our first priority, having given so much for our country and our county,” she said, adding that a Worcester prosecutor would be placed in the program.
“Hopefully, that will be a big benefit for our veterans throughout Worcester County, but I know, specifically, in Berlin we have very many here as well,” she said. “We’re getting in on the ground floor, which should mean that we have a great opportunity to tell [program officials] what exactly our Worcester County veterans need … and they’ll tailor the program as it goes along.”
Additionally, Heiser said her office would focus on public-private partnerships.
“I’ve been meeting in the interim, from now until January, gathering a lot of information from our nonprofits and our charity organizations throughout Worcester County,” she said, highlighting Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services in Berlin.
Heiser said she hopes to leverage “grant money that nonprofits are already bringing in to address the needs of young people in juvenile court, as well as young adults in the adult criminal court system.”
As a prosecutor, Heiser said she often has a captive audience of at-risk youth who are in need of services, but are difficult for nonprofits to identify.
She said many nonprofits she spoke with were “very open to the idea of working more closely with the states attorney’s office” to assist juveniles and first-time adult offenders and their families, by offering mental health services and addictions treatment.
The goal of the public-private partnership is to develop “a much more comprehensive program,” Heiser said.
“That will be a great help in our fight against the opioid crisis as well,” she added.
Finally, Heiser announced plans to appoint a special prosecutor for the Town of Berlin to help “ensure consistency with how we handle problems that are more specific to your town, versus other communities that require very different services from my office.”
“The partnerships [and] communication is very important to me, so I would appreciate any thoughts or ideas and concerns you have, relative to what Berlin needs versus the rest of the county, and how the states attorney’s office and be more proactive and prepared,” Heiser said. “I want the prosecutor to be someone you know, someone you have their phone number, someone who will answer the phone when you call.”
Mayor Gee Williams complimented Heiser’s vision and enthusiasm. He was especially pleased to hear her focus on public-private partnerships, which the town has favored for years.
“I’m also very encouraged by the fact that you’re customizing and localizing services on the basis of the needs of each community. We’re very lucky that we’ve got four different communities in terms of municipalities – plus Ocean Pines – and they all are distinctly different in many ways,” Williams said. “It all starts with people, both folks that are on the right path and those that have lost their way, and I think this approach is something we’re very enthusiastic about.”
Williams also invoked Todd as being particularly effective in his prosecution of drug dealers within Berlin. He said at the time the state’s attorney’s office coordinated with Berlin, state and county police to create a “multipronged effort” to help curb so-called “open air” drug markets.
Heiser said she planned to pursue a similar strategy.
“I was just starting in the office here in Worcester as a new prosecutor when Joel was [in office] and I do remember the results being great,” she said. “If we can continue along with that, my thoughts are dealers should be incarcerated, addicts should be in treatment. I’ve never seen it work any other way.”