Angelos says panel can't be impartial

Two board member should not decide on fee dispute, he says

November 30, 2001|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos, who successfully sought last year to have his $1 billion fee dispute heard by a state appeals board, now is demanding that two of its three members remove themselves from the case, saying they are too closely tied to Gov. Parris N. Glendening to rule fairly.

"If all we were dealing with was that the governor appoints his political friends, that wouldn't be surprising," said William F. Gately, one of Angelos' attorneys. "We have more than that."

What Angelos' lawyers have takes 24 pages of legal argument and more than 100 pages of supporting documents to explain. But it adds up to this: their political histories make it impossible for Chairman Richard B. Rosencrantz and member Anne T. MacKinnon of the state Board of Contract Appeals to be impartial.

The legal challenge is the latest twist in Angelos' fight to collect 25 percent of the $4 billion the state expects to get over 25 years from its tobacco lawsuit. The Orioles owner, who made his fortune suing asbestos companies, says he wants the state to pay him the fee agreed to in his 1996 contract.

State officials say that because the case was resolved relatively quickly by a national settlement, the 25 percent fee is excessive, amounting to $30,000 per hour of legal work. They want him to accept whatever is offered by an arbitration panel because that money will come from the tobacco industry, not state programs.

Lawsuits and political fights have broken out in several states over the fees for private lawyers in the states' tobacco lawsuits. That is no surprise because the fees are by far the largest in U.S. history.

But in no state has the squabble been more bitter and more tangled than in Maryland, possibly because of the political connections involved. Angelos is the state's most generous Democratic contributor and one of its most powerful citizens. Glendening and state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who awarded the tobacco case to Angelos after bidding, are leading Democratic politicians whom Angelos has supported in the past.

After a meandering two-year course through the courts, the fee battle is before the Board of Contract Appeals, whose three members the governor appoints.

Angelos fought last year to have the case heard by the board, saying it was the proper legal venue and not Circuit Court, as Curran had argued.

But having prevailed on that point, Angelos is seeking to take the case away from the board and give it to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, where it would be heard by an administrative law judge.

Angelos' lawyers say Rosencrantz and MacKinnon should recuse themselves from the case because:

Rosencrantz' wife, Peta N. Richkus, serves in Glendening's Cabinet as secretary of general services, and Rosencrantz gave Glendening a $4,250 political contribution in 1998, when he was on the board.

MacKinnon, a former member of the House of Delegates and the Prince George's County Council, has been appointed to state jobs by Glendening, in the Department of General Services, the Agency for Surplus Property, the Department of Transportation and the Board of Contract Appeals.

Rosencrantz' term on the board expired in 1999, but he was never formally reappointed. Under the law, he could be removed by the governor at any time. (The same is true of the third board member, Robert B. Harrison III. The motion questions his impartiality, too, but does not formally seek his recusal.)

MacKinnon was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Contract Appeals in June, after it was clear that the board could play a crucial role in deciding the dispute over Angelos' tobacco fee. Angelos' lawyers imply that the governor was counting on her to be sympathetic to the state's arguments.

Rosencrantz declined to comment. MacKinnon could not be reached for comment. Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie said the governor and his staff do not comment on "pending legal matters."

Deputy Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard said Curran's office will reply in a legal filing. She called the motion "an attempt to intimidate the board" and ignores the basic facts of political life.

"If they have to recuse themselves in this case, they have to recuse themselves in every case," she said, because the board, by definition, rules only on business of the state government headed by Glendening.

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