Andy Hartman, legal legend, retires Even ex-foes laud city's longtime assistant solicitor

January 02, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr | William F. Zorzi Jr,Staff Writer

The title of Ambrose T. Hartman was incorrectly stated in yesterday's editions of The Sun in an article on his retirement as Baltimore's deputy city solicitor.

The Sun regrets the error.

Years from now, when he's telling war stories about his days as Baltimore's assistant city solicitor, Andy Hartman may want to tell the one about how he found a way to tax the air.

It was in the early 1970s, and a private civil dispute over air rights had just ended with an agreement to lease the space above a downtown building. The city promptly decided to tax it as property.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"All hell broke loose, and I called Andy and said, 'Come up here, we've got a problem,' " recalled George L. Russell Jr., who was the city solicitor 1968-1974 and Mr. Hartman's boss.

"The city's argument was, 'Air is free unless you sell it,' " said Mr. Russell, now a private attorney. "And Andy argued that -- and won -- before the Court of Appeals."

It was vintage Andy Hartman -- finding a way to solve the city's thorniest problems.

Time and again, when city policy was challenged, or needed legal tinkering or deciphering, it wound up in the lap of Ambrose T. Hartman, the Law Department's stern, square-shouldered, shiny-pated No. 2 man for more than 30 years.

But Mr. Hartman walked away from all that Thursday. He retired.

"I've gotten a lot of satisfaction in performing public service . . . and shaping the direction of city government," said the 67-year-old backbone of the city solicitor's office. "But after all these years . . . I'm leaving while I'm still in good health and can enjoy life."

During his career, Mr. Hartman was a key player in devising the forerunner of the "piggyback" income tax, and he successfully defended before the state's highest court the financing innovations that helpedusher in the city's renaissance.

Many city officials and others say they fear that Mr. Hartman's retirement from his $90,000-a-year job will leave a permanent void in the institutional memory and experience of the 65-lawyer city solicitor's office.

"My God, the city's in trouble," said former City Council President Walter L. Orlinsky upon hearing of Mr. Hartman's retirement.

"When you lose someone with that much of an institutional memory -- and there really aren't that many people there who come even close to his comprehensive and institutional memory -- you've gotta hurt," said Mr. Orlinsky, who, like other council presidents, often found himself at odds with the administration's lawyers.

"I'm sure he wrote more than one opinion I could've hit him over the head with," Mr. Orlinsky said. "But I knew where the opinions were coming from -- the mayor -- and those are the things that xTC politics are made of."

Mary Pat Clarke, the current City Council president, has found herself opposing most of the legal stands of the last two administrations. But she, too, praised Mr. Hartman.

"Although I seldom agree with Mr. Hartman's opinions, he's regarded not only in the city, but across the state . . . as being in a class of his own . . . for his knowledge, expertise and professional integrity," Mrs. Clarke said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke echoed the sentiments of others who have worked with Mr. Hartman over his 41-year law career -- a span during which he has worked for three attorneys general, five city solicitors, six mayors and a host of other associates that reads like a Who's Who of Maryland politics and law.

"The esteem he's held in by . . . private and public practitioners is certainly extremely high," the mayor said. "He's been a real role model for the profession and . . . for public servants."

Added City Solicitor Neal M. Janey: "Andy Hartman's departure . . is certainly a tremendous loss for the law department."

Mr. Janey has appointed Otho M. Thompson, the department's current chief of litigation, to fill the slot.

Born and reared in Middle River, Mr. Hartman was educated in Baltimore County parochial schools. He served 2 1/2 years in the Army during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after landing at Normandy with the 29th Division.

After returning from the war, he attended the University of Maryland at College Park and in 1951 graduated from the Maryland law school. Two years out of law school, Mr. Hartman, then an assistant attorney general, successfully argued an Anne Arundel County criminal appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But he gained even more attention the next year.

As part of the state's team of lawyers, he argued successfully before the Court of Appeals that a defendant received a fair trial in what was one of the most infamous criminal cases of its day -- that of G. Edward Grammer, who was eventually executed for killing his wife, Dorothy May Grammer, in 1952.

Mr. Hartman left state government in 1955 to join a private law firm, where he stayed until 1959 -- the year he accepted a job as deputy to an old friend, City Solicitor Harrison L. Winter, who later became chief judge of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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