City report raises Shapiro's share of law fees Firm headed by Schmoke's campaign treasurer ranks third

November 24, 1991|By Ann LoLordo ...>...

The Baltimore law firm headed by Ronald M. Shapiro, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's campaign treasurer and chief fund-raiser, received $709,878 worth of city legal business during the mayor's first term in office.

The fees are $310,878 more than the amount the city released in an interim report of payments to private law firms issued before the September primary election.

Only two other law firms in Baltimore received more in legal fees for city-related work than Shapiro and Olander, according to a report prepared for The Sun at the request of the mayor. Shapiro and Olander did little, if any, legal work for the city before Mr. Schmoke's election in November 1987. The 48-year-old Mr. Shapiro, senior partner in the law firm he founded with Christopher D. Olander, has been Mr. Schmoke's campaign treasurer and chief fund-raiser throughout the mayor's political career.

Between Jan. 1, 1988 and this Oct. 31, the city paid a total of $8,119,100 to 63 law firms and attorneys for a multitude of legal services, ranging from reviewing documents in city bond sales to representing police officers in brutality cases.

The top three moneymakers on that list were:

* Piper and Marbury, among the top two law firms in Baltimore that traditionally has captured the bulk of the city's lucrative bond counsel work, received $1,186,003 in fees.

* Cooper, Beckman and Tuerk, the lead local firm representing the city in its massive, seven-year-long case against asbestos manufacturers, was paid $978,548 in fees.

* Shapiro and Olander, with 35 lawyers, earned $709,878 in fees, more than a third of which relates to its work for the Community Development Finance Corp., a quasi-public agency created at Mr. Schmoke's direction.

The agency uses private and public dollars to finance the renovation of vacant houses and construction of new housing for low and moderate income residents.

Baltimore's governmental law department employs 65 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. No written rules or guidelines govern the award of contracts for legal services.

The city has no systematic way of monitoring the amount of legal work agencies parceled out to private law firms. In July, amid reports that city officials were steering business to Mr. Shapiro's law firm, The Sun asked for an accounting of city-related work performed by the firm since Mr. Schmoke took office. The city disclosed only $212,141 in fees to the firm.

When two city-related agencies -- Center City-Inner Harbor Development Inc. and the Community Development Finance Corp. -- refused to disclose the amount of business they did with Mr. Shapiro's firm, the newspaper confronted Mr. Schmoke.

The mayor denied that city officials steered business to his campaign treasurer's firm.

Rather, he said, the administration was spreading the work around. Mr. Schmoke then ordered a report to be compiled on the entirety of the city's outside legal work since he took office. In September, within days of the Democratic primary, the city provided a partial accounting of those legal fees, showing the Shapiro firm earning $399,000. At the time, the city pledged to provide a final accounting later. Last week, the city issued its report to the newspaper.

Based on the findings of that report, Mr. Schmoke asked that the data on outside legal counsel be centralized so that the city can review the monthly fees to determine where they "may be reduced or eliminated," said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman.

The report compiled by the Schmoke administration reflects only fees that were paid out of public funds. In the case of Shapiro and Olander, the distinction makes a difference.

In addition to the public funds outlined in the report, the law firm has received an untold amount of money in legal fees for work it has done for the Community Development Finance Corp. (CDFC).

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