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Griswold out as Anne Arundel Register of Wills after pleading guilty to misconduct

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Griswold out as Anne Arundel Register of Wills after pleading guilty to misconduct

Jun 11, 2024 | 6:02 pm ET
By Bryan P. Sears
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Griswold out as Anne Arundel Register of Wills after pleading guilty to misconduct
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The Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Jasmine M. Jackson, a longtime employee in the Anne Arundel County Register of Wills office, was sworn in Tuesday to run the office that was considered vacated after former Register of Wills Erica Griswold pleaded guilty last week to misconduct in office.

The change in leaders came exactly one week after the first-term Griswold, 51, pleaded guilty after being charged in January with cashing a $6,645 check to her office that was intended to pay estate taxes.

Anne Arundel County Orphans Court Chief Judge Vickie Gipson said the Attorney General’s Office advised court officials that the guilty plea triggered a provision in the state constitution that made the office vacant. Gipson said the orphans court is responsible for filling the vacancy “and we acted accordingly.”

“With all of the confusion that was going on with the previous situation, we were concerned about having some consistency within the office. She’s very well respected,” Gipson said of Jackson. “She has over 16 years of experience with the office, so she understood how previous administrations had run things, and how the issues that might have arisen during the current administration.

“Overall, we just thought that she was an excellent candidate. And as a chief auditor, she pretty much knows almost everything you need to know, as far as probate law in the state of Maryland,” the judge said.

Jackson was sworn in late Tuesday morning. The Register of Wills Office did not make her available for comment. Griswold, in a statement posted by WBAL, extended her “sincere apologies to my constituents, my colleagues, my staff, and my family.”

Griswold out as Anne Arundel Register of Wills after pleading guilty to misconduct
Anne Arundel County Register of Wills Erica Griswold. Photo courtesy maryland.gov.

“Last week, I decided that the best way forward was to accept a plea deal regarding the charge of misconduct in office,” her statement said. “While I humbly take full accountability for my actions, I want to assure everyone that my intentions were never to deceive or misuse public funds.”

Griswold is scheduled to be sentenced July 18 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. At her plea hearing, prosecutors asked for 18 months suspended jail time, three years of supervised probation and 50 hours of community service.

Her attorney, Peter O’Neill, said at the time that Griswold plans to have completed her community service before sentencing, which could lead to her probation being unsupervised, and he said she has already made restitution. O’Neill also said he plans to offer “substantial mitigation” on behalf of Griswold at sentencing.

Griswold was elected in November 2022 and sworn in a month later as register of wills for Anne Arundel County, a position that pays more than $146,000 annually.  The office is a state agency responsible for overseeing estates and ensuring proper taxes are collected. Tax payments to the office are typically made out to either the office or in the name of the register of wills.

Griswold was charged in January with three counts related to the alleged theft of an inheritance tax payment. The charges included misconduct in office; theft by a fiduciary; and theft of more than $1,500 and less than $25,000.

They stemmed from an incident in her office in June 2022, when an employee came to Griswold seeking guidance on a $6,645 estate payment check that arrived without an invoice. Rather than search office records to find the proper destination for the check, Griswold told the employee she had been expecting the check and took it. Six days later, Griswold cashed the check at Chase Bank on Forest Drive in Annapolis “and kept the cash for her personal use,” according to a statement of facts at her plea hearing.

Griswold repaid the $6,645 on Feb. 23, 2023, about one month after criminal charges were filed, the statement said.

Even though the register of wills office was vacated last week by the guilty plea, Gipson said court officials moved quickly to choose a replacement.

“We were trying to act expeditiously in consideration for how destabilizing that situation could be, and we wanted to make sure that the interest of the citizens of Maryland were protected by having a register put in place who could fully function in that position,” said Gipson.

“We are hopeful and expect to have good things come from the new register and look forward to working with her,” she said.