Judge describes Angelos' job offer

Firm says no attempt made to influence asbestos trial judge

Judge details Angelos' pretrial job offer

July 19, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge assigned to hear a backlog of asbestos-injury lawsuits was offered a job by plaintiffs' attorney Peter G. Angelos less than three weeks before the trials began.

Angelos' offer to Judge Edward J. Angeletti - first disclosed in court July 12 and brought up again yesterday - prompted a request last week by defendant ACandS Inc. that Angeletti remove himself from presiding over a jury trial involving several plaintiffs represented by Angelos' firm.

Angeletti, who said the Angelos offer was withdrawn a week after it was made, denied the request. "There is no manifest necessity for the granting of a motion for recusal," he said.

Baltimore Circuit Court Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller said she knew of the Angelos firm's offer to Angeletti but was not troubled by it because Angeletti disclosed it to the lawyers involved.

Local and national legal and judicial authorities, while cautioning that they do not know enough about the offer to pass judgment on its propriety, say the facts are unusual and might raise what one called an issue of "appearances" of partiality.

Angeletti - one of five judges assigned to hear demands for damages from thousands of workers whose asbestos-injury claims have languished for more than a decade - disclosed the timing of his job offer in court yesterday.

Amplifying on an initial discussion in court last week of the job offer by Angelos' firm, which has made millions of dollars suing asbestos firms, Angeletti said he had been offered an unspecified position with the firm June 23 and that the offer was withdrawn June 30.

The first batch of trials of the backlogged asbestos cases began July 10.

Retired judges are often asked to return to the bench when cases accumulate.

Angeletti, 63, who retired in November after 19 years on the bench and once managed the Baltimore Circuit Court's asbestos docket, said yesterday that he was raising the matter of the job offer again to "supplement what was said" last week and to "make the record complete."

"As a retired judge, I'm free to consider opportunities elsewhere," he told lawyers and others in open court before testimony resumed.

Angeletti said the lawyer for ACandS, Catherine A. Mohan, had told him in conference that she believed he was "a fair person and a fair judge" and that she had asked him to recuse himself reluctantly, at the request of her client.

Mohan said in court yesterday that she had "nothing further" to say, and declined to confirm the judge's account of the conversation or comment on the offer.

Efforts to speak with officials of ACandS' parent company, Irex Corp., were unsuccessful.

`Very substantial' offer

Angeletti did not reveal specifics of the offer in court last week or yesterday and said he could not discuss the matter outside of the courtroom because of the pending litigation.

Angelos said he offered Angeletti "very substantial" compensation to head his office's pursuit of lawsuits filed last year against manufacturers of lead paint.

Angelos, whose empire includes real estate and majority ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, said he approached Angeletti because of what he described as the jurist's "first-rate legal mind."

He said the offer was withdrawn when it became apparent that Angeletti would continue to hear cases in retirement.

Angelos dismissed the notion that he offered Angeletti a job to make him favorably disposed toward asbestos plaintiffs in the trials he heard.

"That's absurd," Angelos said.

"You're looking to make a big deal out of this," he added. "If you want to do that, go right ahead. I've said all I'm going to say."

Last week, Mohan, the ACandS lawyer, said, "Your honor, yesterday morning, we had a conversation in chambers in regard to a rumor that you had been given a job offer by the law offices of Peter Angelos, which is a plaintiff in this [lawsuit].

"And I have advised my client of that, and they have asked you to recuse yourself," Mohan said, according to a transcript distributed in court yesterday.

Angeletti said: "During our conversation yesterday, I believe I mentioned that I had also heard that rumor, that it was not an accurate rumor, the way in which it was being presented.

"And I explained to counsel that there had been a job offer from the law offices of Peter Angelos, that there had been conversations regarding that offer and that that offer had subsequently been withdrawn.

"There was nothing pending and has not been pending for this court regarding that situation. And that was known by Administrative Judge Heller. I made sure she was aware of that circumstance," Angeletti said.

"The court is satisfied that there is no manifest necessity for the granting of a motion for recusal, so the motion is denied," he said.

Heller confirmed that Angeletti had told her about the offer. She said she was not bothered by it because Angeletti "disclosed it to all concerned."

`Issue is appearances'

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