Growth spurt carries lawyers to prominence Different styles but similar successes

July 19, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Real estate law isn't as headline-grabbing as, say, criminal law, and that suits Columbia lawyers David A. Carney and Richard B. Talkin just fine.

"My wife doesn't like seeing my name in the paper," says Talkin.

"He and I are not very important," adds Carney.

But in Howard County, where burgeoning development excites the kinds of passions that crime might in other areas, Carney and Talkin are the F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran of land-use legalities.

The balding Carney, 59, and the bow-tied Talkin, 61, have forged parallel reputations as the county's two most prominent land-use attorneys of this decade.

Carney was instrumental in persuading the county to rezone residentially zoned land to commercial zoning for Long Gate shopping center in Ellicott City, while Talkin successfully argued for the development of a rock quarry in Jessup. The two men also led opposition to a proposed solid waste transfer station in Elkridge.

Talkin is now representing a developer with big plans for Fulton, while Carney is busy with smaller cases.

"They know the area, they know the community groups, they know the laws and regulations," says Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of Howard's Department of Planning and Zoning. "People will spin it in different ways, but when you know all that and you come in well prepared, that's why they have the success rate that they do."

Their legal styles are very different, says Kathryn Mann, who dealt with both men when she was a Planning Board member from 1987 to 1991.

"I have the impression that you can sit down with David and come to a compromise," says Mann, president of the Howard County Citizens Association. "With Dick, it's like, 'This is what we want to do, and there's no other way.' "

Adds Democratic County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who was once grilled by Talkin for an hour about Gray's political motivations when he ran for office in 1982: "He can be a pit bull sometimes."

Talkin makes no excuses for his litigious nature.

"I think that in the context of working on a case, you have to be aggressive," he says. "I don't consciously say, 'OK, I have to be aggressive,' but I could see how people might say that."

Carney likens his style to that of a "frumpy Columbo."

"Sometimes, I try to bring a little lightness to the proceedings, but not to embarrass anyone," he says.

Similar beginnings

For all their differences, Carney and Talkin share some remarkable similarities.

Both were born and raised in Baltimore and were inspired by their fathers to practice law. Tom Carney ran the Baltimore office of the Internal Revenue Service's intelligence division. Milton Talkin was a former state's attorney for Baltimore and practiced general law after his retirement.

Early in their legal careers, Richard Talkin and David Carney worked for Howard County State's Attorney Richard Kinlein, who remembers them fondly.

"David was probably a little more passive than Richard," recalls Kinlein, who practices law in an office in Ellicott City's Main Street district. "David was more of a compromiser, more of a master of the deal during the early stages."

Talkin opened a practice in Columbia in 1968. Four years later, Kinlein says, he introduced Talkin to Joel Abramson, and the two formed Talkin & Abramson in 1973.

Carney joined Charles Reese to open Reese & Carney in Baltimore in 1976. The firm moved to Columbia's Hickory Ridge village in 1985.

Both Talkin and Carney say they didn't get actively involved in real estate law until the housing boom hit Howard County in the 1980s.

Both lawyers are often credited by community groups with working with them to resolve issues. Talkin, for instance, is in discussions with several civic associations about a proposed mixed-use project on a 509-acre farm in Fulton.

"I'm not an attorney fan, but I think [Talkin is] a great guy," says Greg Fries, chairman of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, which is closely monitoring the Fulton project.

Sometimes, negotiations don't work. Talks with Glenwood residents concerned about a proposed 116-unit condominium complex were fruitless, and homeowners showed up in droves before the county Board of Appeals to unsuccessfully fight the project. The developer was represented by Carney.

One resident, Amy Lane, says she was impressed by Carney's handling of the explosive case.

"I wanted to hate him because he was on the other side, but he seemed like a decent person," Lane says.

Occasional opponents

The two have also been on opposite sides of the negotiating table.

Two years ago, Carney spearheaded a battle against a rock quarry proposed by Washington parking-lot magnate Kingdon Gould Jr., who hired Talkin.

Carney still seems upset at his loss to Talkin in that case. "He was brilliant in coming up with a presentation, but there were no facts," Carney says.

Adds Talkin: "As far as friendship is concerned, we leave that at the door."

Not all smooth sailing

The lawyers have had their share of troubles. In May 1997, Rosemary Ford of Jessup accused Carney of a conflict of interest.

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