Outgoing solicitor Janey might have city dealings New career as lawyer prompts ethics debate

September 12, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

Neal M. Janey's resignation as Baltimore city solicitor becomes effective next month, but chances are he won't be moving far from the city Board of Estimates.

As the city's chief lawyer, Janey has sat for more than eight years on the powerful board, which awards millions of dollars in city contracts each year. When he begins his new job at the Baltimore law firm of Miles & Stockbridge, he could be appearing before the same panel, trying to win some of those coveted contracts for paying clients.

Joseph S. Welty, chairman of Miles, said he couldn't predict the work Janey will be handling. But he said the firm didn't plan to bar him from appearing before the board.

"I believe the Board of Estimates is something Neal can do. I think he can practice there," Welty said.

Such appearances would not violate the city ethics code or lawyer rules of professional conduct. Those limit lawyers and lobbyists only from taking up matters they were personally or significantly involved in while in government. In the case of the city ethics code, the prohibition is for one year.

The city solicitor's office participates in a wide range of legal work for the city, including review of contracts. But in many cases, Janey's involvement in those matters could be called limited.

Still, Janey's new career does trouble some legal ethicists and former city officials. They question whether the career change of Janey and other former government officials who trade on their public service heightens public skepticism.

"He should wait a year before putting himself back in front of the City of Baltimore on behalf of clients," said former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who sat on the Board of Estimates until last year. "I am certain [Miles] would be the first to acknowledge that requirement. It's the proper way to conduct yourself in that situation."

"It sends the wrong message to the public, which already doesn't trust government," said William I. Weston, an assistant dean at Florida Coastal School of Law and former ethics professor at the University of Baltimore. "[Janey] is a very competent lawyer," Weston said. "There's no reason he can't practice law. The issue is: Why does he need to be doing it in front of the Board of Estimates?"

Janey's new job -- he'll be co-manager of the firm's government relations practice group with former Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer -- is of less concern to others.

City Councilman Martin O'Malley said he doesn't mind Janey working for clients in front of the Board of Estimates.

"Unless he was personally involved in some case from the other side, I don't see where it's terribly inappropriate," the 3rd District Democrat said.

And Welty pointed out that the former city solicitor will have a broad practice at Miles, not one limited to matters in Baltimore.

Welty added that he expected Janey would monitor his activities and list of clients closely to avoid any conflicts.

"He obviously knows what he was involved with at the city level. And he'll know where the lines of propriety are in his private practice," Welty said.

Reached for comment yesterday, Janey referred questions about his duties to Miles & Stockbridge. Questioned further, he said he had responded to questions about the transition from the city solicitor's office to private-firm work at an earlier meeting with reporters and saw no need to answer them again.

When he leaves office, Janey will join a lengthy list of state and federal officials from Maryland who have traded public service careers for lobbying jobs or government relations law practices. That group includes Marvin Mandel, governor from 1969 to 1977; Melvin L. Steinberg, lieutenant governor from 1987 to 1995 and state senator from 1978 to 1987; and Helen Delich Bentley, U.S. representative from 1985 to 1995.

In Baltimore, there are a few examples of high public officials whose later careers kept them close to city government. George Russell, city solicitor from 1968 to 1974, left the city rolls for a private law practice. He periodically has represented clients before the Board of Estimates.

Since 1982, a provision in the city ethics code has limited the activity of public officials who return to private life as lobbyists and lawyers, among other things. That provision bars the officials from assisting or representing a party if the officials were involved in the same case while in government. In 1985, the bar from such activities was reduced to one year.

As a lawyer, Janey also is subject to the state's rules of professional conduct. Those rules mirror much of the language in the city ethics code. In addition, they create several exceptions, including one that allows the lawyer's firm to accept such a case, if the lawyer who has been in public service doesn't share in profits from the matter.

The language of the rules, however, is open to interpretation; cases of lawyers being disciplined for violations are extremely rare.

Some authorities on legal ethics say the rules deliberately permit former government officials to cash in. The prospect of a lucrative career in the private sector helps attract those who otherwise would reject government jobs for their relatively low pay, they say.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.