Attorney objects to council's hiring of lawyer Members must personally defend suit, he says

May 10, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Council members could end up paying a high-priced Baltimore lawyer out of their own pockets, a local attorney said last week.

Thomas E. Lloyd, who represents two men suing the county in a redistricting case, said the council made a mistake when it asked former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti to defend the suit on the council's behalf.

The council has neither the right to sue or be sued, said Lloyd, who has filed a motion to that effect with the Circuit Court.

The council voted 3-2 in March to pay Civiletti $150 an hour to defend a suit brought against the county and the elections board. The suit challenges the redistricting plan approved by the council in a 3-2 vote along party lines late last year. Lloyd expects the court to hear the redistricting challenge June 5.

"If, personally, council members want to intervene, they're welcome," Lloyd said. "But they should pay their own fees like my clients are. They have no authority to pay fees as the council."

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, disagreed. Gray said that when he was first elected to the council in 1982, the council hired an attorney to defend the council against accusations that it had helped a local developer make a sweetheart deal with the community college.

TTC "Obviously, [Lloyd] is going to put his own spin on things," Gray said. "That's his purpose. But if the county executive chooses not to defend an action against the county that affects the council, then the council must."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said when the suit was filed that he would not spend the county's money defending it. Ecker had tried to do with a veto what fellow Republicans David P. Maier of Elkridge and Louis M. Pope of Laurel are seeking to accomplish with a suit.

Ecker sought to put an end to the redistricting plan approved by the council's three Democrats and opposed by its two Republicans. After he vetoed it, the council approved it in a resolution, again by a 3-2 vote along party lines. Bills can be vetoed, resolutions cannot. It takes four votes to override a veto.

Civiletti, who usually charges $400 an hour, advised the council that redistricting could be accomplished with a resolution. The council paid him $7,600 for his services.

Maier and Pope said redistricting must be done by enacting a bill, and they sued the elections board for accepting what they said was a constitutionally defective redistricting plan.

Gray said Ecker's decision not to defend the suit was political and may be in violation of the county charter.

"If he's going to be selective about what to defend when the county is sued, then this is something that needs to be looked at," Gray said. "If he's not going to be defending suits, it may be a good idea to cut the budget since the county won't be needing as much money."

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