Mayor, Clarke clash CAMPAIGN 1995

July 20, 1995|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke wrangled yesterday during a Board of Estimates meeting over the city's use of outside attorneys whose legal work in two issues will cost $780,000.

The five-member board eventually approved the outside legal work, with Mrs. Clarke -- who is opposing the mayor's bid for a third term and is also the board's president -- voting no.

The dispute between Mrs. Clarke and the mayor comes as Mr. Schmoke is under scrutiny for spending millions of city dollars on outside law firms, including Baltimore's Shapiro & Olander, which has political ties to the mayor.

After initially refusing to disclose how much the city spends on outside legal fees, Mr. Schmoke has since promised to provide "the most extensive disclosure of law fees that this city has ever seen."

Yesterday, Mrs. Clarke criticized the mayor for paying outside counsel $5,000 to review the city's curfew law when she had already found a lawyer to do so for free.

"I went to a local firm, and they charged zero," said Mrs. Clarke, referring to the law firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander. "It was done as a public service to the president of City Council."

Mr. Schmoke has hired Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor to review the curfew law.

Two weeks ago, the city suspended its nighttime curfew for juveniles after the state struck down a nearly identical curfew in Frederick. Last Friday, the City Council amended the law and adopted a revised curfew ordinance in hopes of having it in place this summer.

Nancy E. Paige, the attorney who worked on the curfew for Mrs. Clarke, said she concluded that "we can fix what the court says is wrong [with the Frederick law], but neither the Supreme Court or the Maryland Supreme Court has spoken definitively on the constitutionality of juvenile curfew laws."

bTC The mayor yesterday said he wanted to ensure that the curfew would be legally sound and later quipped in a reference to Mrs. Clarke's "do-it-now" style: "You get what you pay for."

Mrs. Clarke also criticized the mayor for pushing to increase by $550,000 the retainer to the Baltimore law firm of Whiteford, Taylor and Preston in a suit involving the desegregation of public housing. The firm has already been paid $225,000 to defend the suit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union, which asks that steps be taken to ensure that black public housing families have the opportunity to live in integrated areas.

Mrs. Clarke argued that the city should use the money to settle the case.

"If we didn't have the money to approve this, we'd find a way to settle it," Mrs. Clarke said.

Mr. Schmoke later shrugged off Mrs. Clarke's comment, saying that her opposition is a "recent conversion on her part."

In February, Mrs. Clarke supported the Board of Estimates' decision to give the law firm $225,000 to enter the suit. But her record on voting for the city to hire outside legal counsel shows no clear pattern.

In April 1991, Mrs. Clarke voted in favor of $135,676.86 in &L payments to Cooper, Beckman and Tuerk for asbestos litigation. Then, Mr. Schmoke said he hoped to recover more than the cost of the fees. Mrs. Clarke said, "OK, Mr. Mayor, I hear you, but I don't like it."

But yesterday she insisted that the city's law department "should do its own work." Deputy City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson said the city's law office would have to hire up to six people, including specialized lawyers and support staff, and computer software to handle the ACLU suit.

Mr. Thompson said the settlement negotiations had collapsed and the city needed the $550,000 retainer to prepare for a trial and fight injunctions.

Barbara Samuels, an ACLU lawyer, said the negotiations had not collapsed. She also said that she believed a settlement was on course and the ACLU was not pursuing injunctions.

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