Solicitor's private job in question Work for boss' wife raises conflict issue

October 22, 1990|By Ann LoLordo

In an article in yesterday's editions of The Sun, the year Kurt L. Schmoke was elected mayor of Baltimore was reported incorrectly. Mr. Schmoke was elected mayor in 1987.

On Sept. 13, assistant Baltimore solicitor Harry L. Chase stood in a crowded downtown hearing room, waiting for his turn to speak on behalf of his client. Mr. Chase's case on this Thursday morning had nothing to do with city business. His client was the boss' wife.

Mr. Chase was representing Donna Janey, the 47-year-old wife of City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, before the city elections board. The election board had set aside the morning to count absentee ballots in contested city elections. Mrs. Janey, seeking a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee, was among the candidates whose political futures rested on the outcome of that count.


City solicitors -- the lawyers who represent the mayor, the City Council and other city agencies in civil matters -- are prohibited from doing private legal work during city work hours. Lawyers who have violated Mr. Janey's policy have been swiftly reprimanded, even fired.

Mr. Chase, a member of the law department since 1969, contends he took a half-day of vacation to represent Mrs. Janey before the elections board that day -- but he has refused to provide The Sun with city records to prove his claim. "I'm not going to give you proof. If Judge Janey wants to give you those records," Mr. Chase said last week, referring further questions to Mr. Janey.

Mr. Janey did not return telephone calls from a Sun reporter despite attempts to reach him for two days. Mrs. Janey also did not return calls.

The issue of city solicitors maintaining private law practices while on the public payroll has been controversial during Mr. Janey's three-year tenure as city solicitor. Last year, while contemplating a ban on private practice, Mr. Janey told City Council members at a public hearing, "I want my people to use this job to serve the public, not supplement a private practice."

Considering those comments, several Council members last week questioned the appropriateness of an assistant city solicitor handling a private matter for Mr. Janey's wife.

"It's peculiar and raises questions about the propriety. He's the city solicitor, and he shouldn't place himself in a position that would suggest impropriety," said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd.

"I don't know that this is a conflict," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd. "But in government you always have to go back to being above and beyond reproach as much as possible because of the issues we're dealing with."

Mr. Chase would not say how he happened to represent MrsJaney or whether he was being paid, citing "attorney-client privilege."

Neither the city ethics law nor city personnel policies speak to the issue of proper relationships between supervisors and their employees.

But Jesse Hoskins, the city personnel director, said that when a city employee works for his boss in a private capacity, the situation raises concerns as to whether the relationship "might incur favors on the individual in other employment decisions, like assignments, promotions, evaluations, commendations."

Alan R. Yuspeh, chairman of the city's ethics board, said he will address the issue of city employees doing outside work for their supervisors in a "code of conduct" that is being drafted, because such a relationship could "potentially compromise the objectivity and the impartial exercise of supervisory authority."

Soon after Kurt L. Schmoke became mayor in 1983, questions arose as to whether the city law department's 70 attorneys would be barred from maintaining private practices, as city prosecutors were while Mr. Schmoke was Baltimore's state's attorney.

In an April 21, 1989, memo to his staff, Mr. Janey, a Schmoke appointee, told the staff he was "developing a policy that will restrict, and possibly prohibit, outside practice."

He acknowledged in the memo that restricting or banning outside practice might result in senior lawyers leaving public service.

He wrote that although he would not want to lose their experience, "On balance, however, I must manage this department in the interest of the public. The notion of mixing public service with private practice is an anachronism.

"It is not consistent with the way public law offices conduct their business in modern times," he wrote. "Furthermore there are no compelling reasons of public policy that have been presented to to date that persuade me to continue outside practice."

Mr. Janey encouraged debate and comments from the staff attorneys and said he planned to have a policy in place by July 1, 1989.

Two months after that memo was sent, Mr. Janey called the private law offices of at least two assistant city solicitors and found them there during city business hours. He severely reprimanded one attorney and docked his pay; he fired the second attorney, a 10-year veteran of the office, according to lawyers familiar with the incidents.

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