Schmoke tenure proves profitable for adviser's firm City legal work grows for Shapiro and Olander

September 08, 1991|By Ann LoLordo

An article in Sunday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported the number of lawyers in the city Law Department. In the 125-member agency, there are 65 attorneys.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke took office, the Baltimore law firm headed by Ronald M. Shapiro, the mayor's campaign treasurer and chief fund-raiser, has increased the amount of legal work it does for the city from nearly nothing to at least $399,000 in fees.

The fees paid to the law firm of Shapiro and Olander included a retainer for a partner to advise the city on debt matters -- something never done until the Schmoke administration took office. Other work was personally directed to the firm by either the mayor or one of his top aides.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The city has provided only a partial accounting of legal work contracted out to private attorneys. Officials said a full accounting is forthcoming.

Mr. Schmoke denies that he steered business to the law firm because of his connection with Mr. Shapiro. "The city has always used outside legal counsel," Mr. Schmoke said. "I'm no different than anybody else."

Baltimore has a law department that employs about 110 attorneys, but it has traditionally contracted out legal work involving the sale of city bonds and other business that requires a particular expertise or in which city agencies have conflicting legal interests. Law firms are not required to submit bids, and there are no written rules or guidelines to govern the award of contracts for legal services.

When Mr. Schmoke took office in December 1987, he ordered that more of the city's bond work and other legal business go to firms and lawyers -- including minorities and women -- not previously retained by the city.

The mayor's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said Friday that Shapiro and Olander was among "a number of law firms" that had done little or no business with the city until Mr. Schmoke took office. "The mayor's policy has been to try as much as possible to spread the work around to as many firms as possible who are capable to do the work," he said.

The 48-year-old Mr. Shapiro, senior partner in the law firm he established with Christopher D. Olander, has been the mayor's campaign treasurer and chief fund-raiser throughout Mr. Schmoke's political career. In that capacity he helped the mayor amass campaign chests of more than $1 million for both his 1987 and 1991 campaigns. To the public, he is best known as an agent representing several leading professional sports figures or host of an interview show on local television.

Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's top political adviser and campaign strategist, is also associated with Shapiro and Olander in a capacity known as "of counsel." Mr. Gibson has an office at the firm but declines to say whether he is paid by it.

During Mr. Schmoke's tenure, the city has contracted out at least $5.7 million in legal work to 24 firms, according to an accounting prepared at the order of the mayor in response to a request by The Sun. Of that, $2.4 million in fees went to two firms -- Cooper, Beckman and Tuerk, of Baltimore, and Levy, Phillips and Konigsberg, of New York -- that have been representing the city for seven years in its case against asbestos manufacturers.

Of the remaining $3.3 million, at least $1.2 million went to Piper and Marbury, one of Baltimore's largest law firms. Most of the work performed by Piper and Marbury was related to bond matters. The 35-member Shapiro and Olander ranked next on the list with fees of $399,000.

Other Baltimore law firms that received city legal work include: Venable, Baetjer and Howard ($300,000), Miles and Stockbridge and Semmes, Bowen and Semmes ($170,000).

"I don't think we were on the short list of law firms that the Schaefer administration used," said David M. Funk, the Shapiro and Olander partner who serves as the city's debt counsel. Mr. Shapiro said that he thinks that Shapiro and Olander did some work for the city before Mr. Schmoke took office but that most of the firm's government work was in the counties.

Mr. Shapiro said he has received calls from potential clients whose "primary interest" is capitalizing on his access to Mr. Schmoke. But, he says, the firm has turned down all of that work. In one case, he said, the law firm was offered a $500,000 retainer by a business that wanted Shapiro and Olander as its corporate counsel.

"They wanted that association," he said, referring to his relationship with City Hall. "And I refused to give it to them."

Added Mr. Funk: "We made a very conscious decision, that because of our relationship with the mayor of the city of Baltimore, we would not represent clients who wanted something from the city. . . .

"If we had accepted all the business that people wanted to give us in order to gain access to the city of Baltimore, we would be a rich, rich law firm."

The law firm does continue to represent clients it had prior to the Schmoke administration if those clients have business with the city, Mr. Shapiro said.

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