Judge sets trial date in suit against Balog

City public works director, aides accused of retaliation

November 11, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A federal judge set a May 15 trial date yesterday in the civil suit brought against Baltimore public works Director George G. Balog and two deputies by two department managers who said they suffered illegal on-the-job retaliation after criticizing a contract to repair a city landfill.

This week, U.S. District Judge Frederick N. Smalkin made it clear that he will limit the issues raised at the trial to whether department managers Jeanne Robinson and David Marc were punished for exercising their First Amendment rights.

The two had criticized the repair contract at a 1995 Board of Estimates meeting and later at a meeting with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Issues pertinent to whether the landfill operation was crooked or not are not relevant," Smalkin wrote in a letter to lawyers for both sides. "In short, this will not be a trial on whether or not the plaintiffs' speech was right or wrong, but about whether they were punished on account of having said what they said."

Robinson, who was the acting chief of the engineering division of the Bureau of Solid Waste at the time, said her staff and budget were slashed after she made the criticisms. Marc, an engineer in the division, said he lost use of his city-owned car, parking space and laptop computer and was denied a request for early retirement.

Balog and his co-defendants Leonard H. Addison and Robert F. Guston counter in court papers that Robinson and Marc were not demoted and did not have their pay cut.

Filed nearly four years ago, the suit stems from a departmental dispute about the adequacy of a contractor's repairs to a runoff pond at the Quarantine Road Landfill. The problems led to the dismissal of high-ranking public works official Kenneth Strong.

Strong, Robinson and Marc contended that contractor L.F. Mahoney Inc. bungled the original repairs and should not have received additional money to fix the problem. Robinson and Marc said the additional money was part of a pattern of favoritism in the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in which contractors were rewarded for making campaign contributions.

Balog, who has denied the allegations of favoritism, and Guston said the pond suffered additional damage because of negligence by the engineers after the initial repairs were made. He said the second contract was proper.

The city approved an additional $250,000 last month, for a total of $520,000, to pay private lawyers to defend Balog, Addison and Guston in the suit and a separate grand jury probe into contract-steering and bid-rigging.

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