Judge joins Angelos firm

Previous job offer was made as Angeletti heard asbestos cases

`Absolutely walled off'

March 23, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A retired Baltimore judge who was criticized for considering a job offer from lawyer Peter G. Angelos while presiding over asbestos cases handled by his firm is now on Angelos' payroll.

Judge Edward J. Angeletti, who presided over asbestos-related cases for a decade, joined Angelos' firm March 5 to oversee its personal injury and malpractice units, Angelos said yesterday.

Angeletti was offered the job in January when he was sitting as a retired judge in city Circuit Court, said the court's administrative judge. He was not hearing asbestos cases then and had not been since July, when contention arose about a prior job offer from Angelos, said Judge Ellen M. Heller.

"He told me [about the offer], and I said, `When will you be leaving?'" she said. "I can say without any hesitation that he has not had anything to do with asbestos litigation since he recused himself."

Heller said Angeletti left the courthouse soon after accepting the job.

Angelos disputed Heller's account, saying that he did not offer Angeletti a job until the judge "had severed his ties completely to the courthouse." At the firm, Angeletti will not handle asbestos or tobacco cases because it would be "inappropriate," Angelos said.

"He played a major role in both of those areas of litigation while he was on the bench," Angelos said. "He is absolutely walled off from that litigation as is required by the rules."

Angeletti, 64, declined to comment. He retired two years ago after 19 years on the bench. He returned on a part-time basis - as is common - to hear cases.

The Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a retired judge from taking a job with a firm that has appeared before him, said Abraham Dash, a University of Maryland law professor. An ethical problem arises only if the judge was weighing the offer while deciding cases brought by the firm, he said.

"To John Q. Public, sure it is going to look bad," Dash said. "On first blush your eyebrow goes up, but as long as he was not sitting on any asbestos cases at the time the offer was made, then he is not violating" judicial rules.

A dispute arose last summer when it was revealed that Angelos had offered Angeletti a job while the judge was presiding over asbestos cases involving his firm.

Angeletti disclosed in July that he had received a job offer from Angelos on June 23 and that the offer had been withdrawn June 30. But Angeletti waited nearly three weeks - until the day after he began an asbestos trial - to tell defense lawyers in the case about the offer. The lawyers asked Angeletti to remove himself from the case, arguing that the results of the cases would be tainted by the job offer.

Angeletti declined to step down, saying he had told Heller, his boss, about the job offer. As a retired judge, he said, he was free to consider employment opportunities. He later removed himself from the case, saying his "impartiality has been brought into question."

A panel of city judges concluded that Angeletti erred by waiting so long to tell the defense lawyers about the job offer.

Angelos, who has made millions suing asbestos companies, said he wanted to hire Angeletti because of his "legal mind" and his administrative talents.

"I've been in asbestos litigation longer than he has. I don't need his experience," he said.

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