Former city employee sues Schmoke, others over losing job Suit claims Harford chief, mayor, ex-solicitor, lawyer conspired against him

February 21, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Lawyer Alfred Kramer says he never thought moonlighting from his day job as assistant city solicitor in Baltimore would get him in so much hot water with his boss, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

But after he sued Harford County on behalf of a man who didn't want to pay a development fee, Kramer says County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann complained to Schmoke that the lawsuit was an embarrassment to her 1994 re-election campaign.

In 1995, Kramer lost his $55,000-a-year job, after 15 years with the city.

Now he is suing Schmoke, former city solicitor, Neal M. Janey, Rehrmann and her county attorney, Ernest A. Crofoot. Kramer claims he was wrongfully fired and accuses them of conspiring to interfere with his private legal business.

He is seeking $39 million in damages in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Kramer's lawyer, Daniel J. Earnshaw, said he filed the suit in Baltimore County because he doesn't think he can get a fair trial in the city.

"Eileen Rehrmann interfered with this person's livelihood because she wanted to be re-elected," Earnshaw said.

Philip S. Roberts, an assistant county attorney for Harford, declined to comment on the allegations in the suit, filed last month. He said the county has objected to the suit's being filed in Baltimore County, rather than in Baltimore.

The city solicitor's office responded to the suit by releasing a statement that said, "it is the policy of this office to preclude solicitors from engaging in the private practice of law with such clients that create a conflict of interest or materially interfere with the completion of city work."

Janey, the former city solicitor, released a statement saying, "All attorneys in the law department understood their [private] work could not conflict or interfere with the interests of the city. When the suit against Harford County came to my attention, it was determined that it represented a conflict."

Nevertheless, Kramer's suit notes the city government's long-standing policy allowing assistant city solicitors to do outside legal work.

Kramer of Harford County said he had permission from his supervisor to represent the county man -- and later a group of county residents in a class-action suit -- claiming that the Rehrmann administration charged developers illegal taxes or fees.

In one case, for example, the county charged a man $90,000 to widen a public road before he could build 11 houses nearby. The Court of Special Appeals ruled in his favor, saying the county had no legal authority to charge the fee.

In June 1994, the suit says, Rehrmann complained to Schmoke at a political fund-raiser that "Kramer's representation was harming her political campaign."

During the campaign, Rehrmann's Republican opponent, Ronald Szczybor, criticized the Democratic county executive for increasing "every possible fee," including water and sewer rates and building inspection and permit fees.

The suit also states that Janey threatened to fire Kramer -- and ban all assistant city solicitors from moonlighting -- if he did not withdraw from the Harford County class-action suit.

Kramer says he withdrew but was "protecting my fees" for work already done so he could collect legal fees if the suit was later won.

But in November 1995, Janey sent Kramer a letter accusing him of remaining involved in the suit.

"The issues raised in the suit were embarrassing to the County Executive and her administration, and became political issues in her campaign for re-election to office," according to Janey's letter.

Janey closed his letter by threatening to "take the appropriate departmental action in order to purge the conflict, and to protect our interests and relations with Harford County."

On Nov. 29, 1995, Kramer received a "layoff notice" from Janey, saying he would lose his job the next January.

"This action is being taken because of budgetary and fiscal constraints and the implementation of reorganization initiatives this action is through no fault of your own," the layoff letter reads.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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