Moose war is coming to a head Law firm seeks return of revered talisman

September 28, 1995|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Some of the city's top legal minds are tussling over the final resting place of a large and slightly scruffy stuffed moose head.

At issue is whether the moose, bagged by a founding partner of old-line law firm Venable, Baetjer and Howard, belongs to Venable or to the law library at the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse.

And because of an unusual deal struck last year between a city judge and a Venable attorney, the moose is likely to rest, however uneasily, at Venable -- which may dispose of the head and hang only the broad antlers atop the checkout counter of the firm's library.

Bagged in New Brunswick in 1935 by Baltimore attorney Edwin G. Baetjer, the moose originally was stuffed and mounted on the wall at Venable, where for years it stared down hostile trial witnesses in a conference room.

There, the stately beast became a beloved talisman -- until 25 years ago, when space limitations in new quarters gave the moose a position of honor in the law library at the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse.

Now the law firm awaits its return -- in one form or another.

Attorney A. Samuel Cook diplomatically predicts that because of the mascot's "disintegrating condition" it may reappear minus its head.

But such talk makes the Mitchell Courthouse's chief law librarian Kai-Yun Chiu angry.

"If they say they just want the antlers, I'd say over my dead body," Ms. Chiu said.

"I would not give up the moose. I cannot stand to see the poor moose's antlers cut off; it's a mutilation."

As the library wrestles with problems ranging from declining membership to lack of computer databased technology, the mere presence of the moose serves as inspiration, Ms. Chiu said. It has become a tradition to decorate it each winter holiday season with holly and mistletoe.

"We consider the moose a guardian angel," she said. "It's seen us through some hard times, and now we are going through bad times financially, and we hope it doesn't have to go back. We'd hate to have to lose it."

But at Venable, where the moose's likeness adorns coffee mugs, shirts, pens and pencils and even the weekly newsletter, anticipation over its return is getting stronger.

"We're delighted to have the moose come back in whatever form," said James L. Shea, managing partner at Venable. "It's a fun thing and part of the firm's history and heritage over the years. It's spawned fun and a lot of merriment."

With 9-foot ceilings in its offices at Hopkins Plaza, the firm has room only for the moose's antlers -- not the full head, Mr. Shea said.

And it's not as if Venable hasn't tried to make reasonable accommodations.

In 1970, the firm made a last-ditch effort to keep the animal, placing it in a stairwell -- the only location it would fit in the new offices.

But that spot didn't suit -- the head came crashing down as a pack of horrified attorneys scurried out of its path.

Then in 1992, Venable formed a committee and asked the library's board of directors to return the moose. The board vetoed the request.

But earlier this year, Mr. Cook, a Venable labor attorney and proud keeper of the moose tradition, won the mascot back. And Ms. Chiu's defense of the moose notwithstanding, it now looks to be headed back to Venable.

Late in 1994, Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, needed a labor lawyer to help with a matter involving the law library's employees. He asked Mr. Cook, who agreed but named an unusual fee: $400 an hour or the moose. Judge Kaplan decided to award him the moose.

By February of this year, the matter had been resolved, and the pleased judge sent Mr. Cook a letter:

"Dear Sam:

"Many, many thanks for a job well done. As always, you hit a home run. Your fee for the handling of our case is well earned.

"The moose is yours."

The homecoming will "rejuvenate the hearts and minds of the firm's leaders and at the same time motivate our young attorneys to ferret victorious legal precedents cached in the ponderous tomes of the library stacks," Mr. Cook wrote in a summer newsletter.

"His likeness is on firm coffee mugs, the weekly newsletter, and we have over the years created a 'mooseoleum,' " Mr. Cook said in an interview.

"I've loved him. It's been so much fun to have a mascot, law firms being rather staid and dignified a lot of the time. And it's nice to have a little relief and a sense of humor and an esprit de corps."

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