March 15, 2018

Former Inspector General Encourages Others to Follow the Facts

Honorable Carlos F. Acosta
Montgomery Co. District Court, Maryland

In December 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan appointed Acosta to serve as a judge in the Montgomery County District Court. This interview took place before his appointment. We will check in with him in the near future to ask him about his new position on the bench. 

Prior to his appointment, Acosta served as Inspector General for the Prince George's County (Maryland) Police Department (PGPD). In that position, he led a staff of police officers and researchers charged with investigating and auditing the county's police department. Although completely independent, Acosta and his staff provided legal assistance and oversight advice to the chief and his executive command staff. This assistance and advice ranged from managing administrative hearings concerning officer misconduct to the research and recommendation of policy initiatives aimed at preventing fraud, waste, and abuse, as well as issues involving constitutional policing.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received career-wise and why?
The best piece of career-related advice I ever received was "follow the facts, don't follow the theory." I regularly get complaints in which all sorts of bad acts were alleged, replete with motivations of bad actors. I think it's a mistake for people in my line of work to collect facts based on a theory rather than collect facts and base a theory on those facts. The latter has a much better chance of reaching a just conclusion than the former.

Why did you decide government practice was a good fit for you?
I've had the privilege to work both for the private as well as the government sector. Both settings have their own positive characteristics, and I've had excellent experiences in the private sector. Nonetheless, it seems that I keep getting drawn back to the public sector. I think that for my personal satisfaction, I very much enjoy the roles that public sector lawyers are allowed to take. I felt like I could do a lot of good for the public as a government lawyer and that made me happy.

What is one decision that you made that changed the course of your career?
To leave private practice and become a prosecutor. I realized after a couple of years at a big firm that I wanted to be a trial lawyer and I was surrounded by people who had cut their teeth and become highly trained as trial attorneys in a government setting. I wanted the opportunity for extensive trial practice, and I got just that as a prosecutor.

Name one person that helped with your career development and explain what s/he did?
I give substantial credit to Judge Vincent E. Ferretti Jr. for whom I clerked after law school. I did not come from a legal background - neither my mother nor my father were lawyers. Judge Ferretti provided me with what was essentially a one-year apprenticeship in how to be a professional in the legal field and I'm eternally grateful for the time he put in to get me started.

What do you do to relax?
I read. I'm currently in the middle of The Martian by Andy Weir and Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Also, my wife has the kitchen TV permanently tuned to HGTV (in what I believe she hopes is a long-running tutorial to me about updating every part of our house).

What is your proudest work-related accomplishment?
My proudest work accomplishment was bringing double-blind sequential photo identification array procedures to PGPD. Previously, in order to confirm the identity of suspects, detectives used a line-up or showed witnesses six pictures (colloquially termed a "six-pack"), one photo of which was of the suspected offender. The officer showing the photo array would know who the suspect was and risked intentionally or unintentionally influencing witnesses with his or her behavior. However, in double-blind sequential photo arrays, neither the witness nor the person showing the lineup knows which picture is of the suspect. And each photo is viewed one at a time. The risk of improper influence dramatically decreases. Studies have shown this technique prevents the misidentification of innocent people.

If you were not a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
If I was not a lawyer, I would be a cabinet maker. I would produce artistic, one-off woodworking pieces. And try to keep each one.