Solicitor's records show leave used for private job

October 25, 1990|By Ann LoLordo

An assistant Baltimore solicitor took personal leave to represent his boss's wife in a private legal matter during city business hours, according to city records obtained by The Sun yesterday.

The assistant, Harry L. Chase, previously refused to authorize release of any payroll records to the newspaper to support his claim that he took a half-day of vacation on Sept. 13 -- the day he represented the wife of City Solicitor Neal M. Janey before the city elections board.

But after prodding from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Mr. Chase granted permission for the law department to release one payroll document for the hours he worked Sept. 13. He denied the newspaper's request to review payroll documents for Sept. 14, when a reporter called Mr. Chase's private law office during city work hours and found him there.

When asked about the propriety of Mr. Chase representing his boss's wife in a private legal matter, Mr. Schmoke said, "If they had come to me about it first, I would have said he should not undertake that representation. Not that it represented an actual conflict, but it gave the appearance of conflict."

The Sun reported Monday that Mr. Chase appeared before the elections board Sept. 13 on behalf of Donna Janey, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic State Central Committee from Northwest Baltimore's 42nd District.

Assistant solicitors -- who represent the mayor, City Council and municipal agencies in civil matters -- are permitted to do private legal work only on their own time.

Mr. Chase, who maintains a hefty private law practice and is given leeway in balancing his public and private duties, also had refused to discuss the circumstances of his involvement in Mrs. Janey's case.

The city personnel director and the chairman of the ethics board said Mr. Chase's handling of the matter raised questions about the appropriateness of employees doing outside work for their superiors.

Yesterday, Mayor Schmoke said he had met with Mr. Chase and Mr. Janey about the issue.

"In my view, I didn't see a problem in releasing law department records as long as the assistant agreed," Mr. Schmoke said. "Failure to release the document made the whole situation look worse than it actually was."

Mr. Chase, a veteran assistant solicitor who has helped raise money for Mayor Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said yesterday that his decision to release the payroll document had nothing to do with his meeting with the mayor.

"I was just abiding by the policy," Mr. Chase said, referring to the law department's contention that the payroll attendance sheet was confidential personnel information. "And I wasn't going to make any exception to it. If nobody had any objection to it, I had no objection."

For the first time yesterday, Mr. Chase discussed publicly how he came to handle the case for Mrs. Janey, whose election turned on a count of absentee ballots.

On Sept. 13, the city elections board was to begin the count, and Mr. Chase appeared on Mrs. Janey's behalf to ask the board to count the absentee ballots in her race first. He won that concession, but Mrs. Janey lost the race by 83 votes.

Mr. Chase, who says he has been active in city politics for 25 years, said he was working for a slate of candidates that included Mrs. Janey.

"I worked for her. I campaigned for the ticket," Mr. Chase said.

When it became clear that Mrs. Janey's race would turn on the absentee ballots, Mr. Chase said he told her, "I don't think you should go over there yourself. She asked me if I would go over there with her, and I agreed." Mr. Chase said he donated his legal services to her and stated that Mrs. Janey's campaign finance reports will reflect that "in-kind" aid.

Mr. Chase said he would not consent to The Sun's request to review payroll documents for Sept. 14, the day when a reporter called his private law office during city business hours to discuss Mrs. Janey's case and found him there.

Mr. Janey, who last year considered banning private practice by the 70 lawyers in his office, spoke publicly about the issue involving Mr. Chase for the first time this week. He said he did not know the circumstances under which Mr. Chase represented Mrs. Janey on Sept. 13. "I did not have anything to do with him representing my wife," Mr. Janey said.

Mr. Janey stated the office policy on private practice work: "Attorneys are allowed to handle private matters on their own time. That's what the policy is. They can take annual leave, personal leave, compensatory time. They can use their lunch time or they can make up the time. That has been the practice for years."

When asked if it was appropriate for an attorney in his office to handle a private legal matter for his wife, Mr. Janey said, "It's water over the dam now. You have talked to the personnel director. You have talked to the chairman of the ethics board.

"I'm not going to rehash old ground with you," he said. "I don't really know where you're coming from. I don't really see the point."

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