Blunt-spoken attorney defends Angelos on tobacco accord fee

State's stance called `half-baked' by Gately

May 16, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

William F. Gately is not one to mince words on almost anything -- including himself.

"I tend to express my views very strongly," says Gately, who is representing Peter G. Angelos in Angelos' battle with the state over legal fees in Maryland's tobacco settlement. "I tend to get passionate about things that are important."

He pauses slightly, leaning forward in his chair behind his desk in his functional and largely nondescript office across the street from the Baltimore County courthouse in downtown Towson.

"Maybe I get too passionate, too quickly," he says. "If I have a fault, that's it."

The 59-year-old attorney's tart tongue and quick verbal trigger have been readily apparent in the fee dispute. Angelos wants the state to abide by the terms of a 1996 contract and pay him 25 percent of a $4.6 billion settlement. The state argues he deserves something less and that he should be paid by the tobacco industry, preserving Maryland's money for public purposes.

Last week, the state applied for an initial payment to Angelos of $5.2 million by by the cigarette manufacturers. The application, which will go before an arbitration panel, was promptly denounced by Gately, who called it an attempt by state officials to get a "half-baked, phony, bogus fee award they can use in court against Peter Angelos."

Last month, the office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. announced that it was hiring the blue-chip law firm Hogan and Hartson to help in the Angelos case. Gately called that "ludicrous," noting that Curran "has about 320 lawyers working for him" while Angelos was being represented by "a two-man law firm from Towson," Gately and longtime partner H. Thomas Howell.

Gately's method of operation is not unlike that of Angelos, the Orioles owner, downtown developer and wealthy and highly successful litigator.

"I guess the two of us are somewhat simpatico in our approaches and styles," Gately says.

Angelos laughs when Gately's comment is read to him.

"That's a fair comment," Angelos says. "He's very assertive, calls the shots the way he sees them and doesn't mince any words."

But it's more than Gately's manner that appeals to Angelos.

"They're highly experienced, very qualified lawyers, among the best in the state," Angelos says of Gately and Howell.

Maryland Deputy Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard, who is taking the lead in the state's dispute with Angelos, declines to speak about Gately.

"I can't imagine it would be appropriate for me to comment," she says.

A prominent former client and lawyers who have worked with and against Gately mention his knowledgeability and staunch advocacy.

"He's very knowledgeable in the law and very strong-willed," said Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger, whom Gately successfully defended three years ago in a complaint before the state's judicial disciplinary panel.

Bollinger -- who faced a complaint by women's groups over his decision to erase the battery conviction of a man who had beaten his estranged wife's head against the floor after the man said he needed a clean record to join a country club -- said Gately was a logical choice as his counsel.

"We needed someone who would go to the fences," he said.

Towson lawyer Keith A. Rosenberg, who was on the losing side of a $2.75 million jury verdict Gately won in 1994 on behalf of a Baltimore County woman who was killed in a shopping center parking lot, calls Gately "very thorough" and a "very experienced trial lawyer."

"He was very eloquent," Rosenberg recalls of the case against Westview Mall. "He presented the case very well. He was very convincing to the jury."

Daniel J. Moore, a vice president of Semmes, Bowen and Semmes, where Gately worked for two decades before leaving to establish his firm in 1992, calls his former colleague an "intense advocate" equally at ease working for a defendant or plaintiff.

"Bill is never dull," says Moore.

Born and raised in Towson, Gately was the oldest of three children born to a corporate accountant and his homemaker wife.

After graduating from Villanova University in 1963, he was set to attend law school but got waylaid by a bout of mononucleosis.

When he recovered, he took a job with Bethlehem Steel, then became a salesman for an oil company, but he says that he "never put law school out of my mind."

He eventually enrolled in the University of Maryland School of Law at night, working as a claims adjuster for an insurance company during the day. He earned his law degree in 1971.

Gately spent eight months as an assistant city state's attorney before joining Semmes, Bowen and Semmes.

At Semmes, he worked with legal luminary Norman P. Ramsey defending Irvin Kovens, one of four co-defendants charged with former Gov. Marvin Mandel in a mid-1970s mail-fraud and racketeering case.

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