Legal fees disclosure is sought

July 03, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke called on Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday to divulge all the legal fees that have been paid to a closely connected Baltimore law firm.

Mrs. Clarke, who is running against the mayor in September's Democratic primary, said Baltimore taxpayers should be told exactly how much Shapiro and Olander receives for representing the city and its quasi-public agencies.

Mrs. Clarke was quick to respond to a report in The Sun yesterday that revealed that Shapiro and Olander, a downtown law firm with strong ties to Mr. Schmoke, had collected at least $1.4 million for city-related legal work in the past 3 1/2 years.

The amount -- double that reported during the mayor's first term -- includes direct city payments and fees from some of the quasi-public agencies and their clients.

Mrs. Clarke said the figures should be made public, in part to determine whether the city and its separate, taxpayer-funded agencies are getting a good deal.

"Full disclosure is basic to government," she said. "This firm is being paid at the public trough."

Mrs. Clarke's words echoed those of Maryland's attorney general, a citizens' watchdog group and the head of the city bar association's ethics committee, all of whom were quoted in The Sun report as saying the legal fees should be disclosed.

Mr. Schmoke, saying that he is acting on the advice of the city law department, has refused to reveal the total amount of quasi-public funds going to Shapiro and Olander -- whose lawyers include the mayor's campaign treasurer and his chief political strategist.

Mr. Schmoke had said he did not want to reveal the fees paid by the quasi-public groups because he was worried about eroding their independence. His spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, reiterated that stance yesterday.

"The quasi-public fees will not be disclosed. They never have been, and if the law department has its way, they never will be. Much of it is not public money," he said. "This is a two-decade-old precedent. This is not just the policy of the mayor's law department but the policy of law departments of yesteryear."

Mr. Coleman said the mayor fully intends to reveal all fees that were paid for by city departments. An accounting of those fees -- requested by The Sun seven weeks ago -- will be made public in another four weeks, possibly sooner, he said.

He criticized The Sun for not waiting to obtain all the data.

"It cannot be compiled overnight," he said. "It's a shame that The Sun chose not to wait for that information to be compiled before the story was printed."

Shapiro and Olander has played a significant role in the Schmoke administration's high-profile initiatives since he became mayor in 1987. Ronald M. Shapiro, a founding partner, is the mayor's chief fund-raiser, while Larry S. Gibson, who is "of counsel" to the firm,orchestrates the campaigns.

Mr. Coleman defended the work of the law firm and said it is paid only a small portion of the city's legal fees.

If there was a list of all the legal work that other firms do for the city, he said, "people would see that Shapiro and Olander get but a small percentage of that total amount. They are not making outlandish money."

Mr. Coleman added: "I don't believe anyone is questioning whether the fees paid were usual and customary fees. In some cases, they were less than customary. The work that was done was quality work, and no one questions that."

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