Pratt picks new officer of real estate

City comptroller taps developer to replace fired Ambridge

Legal trouble in 1976

John D. Hubble left clerk of court job amid criminal probe

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January 09, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

After Friday's abrupt firing of the city's real estate officer, Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt has quickly installed a replacement, local developer John D. Hubble, who resigned from his last public job to avoid criminal prosecution nearly 25 years ago.

Hubble, 65, who has been active in the real estate business for more than 40 years, started as acting real estate officer yesterday. Hubble's predecessor, Anthony J. Ambridge, was fired Friday after four years on the job.

Pratt said yesterday she dismissed Ambridge because she wanted "a change in the real estate office," which is charged with managing city-owned buildings, arranging leases for city agencies, organizing the sale of tax-delinquent properties and analyzing proposed city real estate deals.

"Mr. Hubble has many more years of experience [in real estate]," Pratt said. "And I think there can be additional scrutiny to achieve maximum savings or generate more revenue for the city."

Pratt's choice has bought, renovated and sold properties and businesses in Baltimore for decades. But in city politics, Hubble has a more troubled history.

In September 1976, Hubble resigned as clerk of Circuit Court No. 2, a post to which he was elected twice, in a deal struck with a special prosecutor to avoid criminal indictment for neglecting his court duties.

The resignation came after more than a year of public scrutiny of allegations that he spent his time and the resources of his office on his real estate dealings.

Hubble denied most of the allegations, though at the time he defended some of his personnel decisions to The Sun, saying, "Remember, I'm a constitutional officer. I can do anything I want to in this office - anything at all."

A failed candidate for City Council president in 1971 and for mayor in 1975, Hubble reportedly said at the time that he saw the clerk's job as a "political base of operations."

Deputy clerks of the court also alleged that he would reward or punish court employees depending on whether they cooperated with him politically, and that he hired and gave pay raises to associates of city political boss James H. "Jack" Pollack.

Today, Hubble still asserts his innocence, saying he worked every day and never took a vacation. He said he resigned only to keep the legal bills from mounting.

"It was costing me a fortune for lawyers, and I said, `My God, what am I doing all this for?' and I quit," Hubble said. "It wears you down."

Pratt said she was unaware of Hubble's past troubles.

"That's not a problem for me," she said. "His office is right above my office. I meet with my department heads quite frequently, so if you're talking about something that happened 25 years ago where he didn't come to work, that won't happen here."

Since his resignation as court clerk, Hubble has generally stayed out of the public eye, focusing on his real estate projects.

However, in 1982, the city halted renovation of a Charles Village apartment building he co-owned, as well as another his wife co-owned, because the work was being done without building permits.

Court records also show he was charged in 1989 with possessing and maintaining a slot machine and with keeping a place of gaming at Pickles Pub, 520 Washington Blvd. He said yesterday that although he once owned the building, he was not involved with the bar when it was cited. The charges "got dismissed, or whatever, because I never heard another thing about it," he said.

Hubble said he would curtail his real estate business now that he's started the city real estate officer's job. He said he had been talking with Pratt about the job for some time.

"I think a lot is slipping through the cracks [in the city], and I thought I could analyze some of the deals, because I've done all sorts of deals," Hubble said. "I feel that I can ferret these deals out."

Hubble said he'd be too busy in his current job, which he started at 9 a.m. yesterday, to do much private real estate work.

"I didn't get out until 5:15," he said. "I can see where this job is going to be a full-time-and-a-half job."

Pratt and Hubble said they weren't sure what his salary would be, but the comptroller said that it would be lower than Ambridge's $87,700 a year.

Sun staff writer Walter F. Roche Jr. contributed to this article.

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