Some on Anne Arundel's council want to have own legal counsel

Members now get advice from county's attorney

February 05, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Worried that they're getting biased legal advice, some Anne Arundel County Council members want a barrister of their own, someone other than County Attorney Linda M. Schuett.

The elected officials contend that because Schuett, a 22-year law professional, was appointed by County Executive Janet S. Owens in 1999, she and her staff are more likely to write legal opinions that support legislation produced by the administration.

"The problem is that, at times, there's concern that the county attorney is advocating for the county executive as opposed to giving detached legal advice," said Councilman John J. Klocko III, a Republican from Crofton. "And this is historical, it's not just a current issue."

The concept - allowing the council to have its attorney, or at least the ability to seek outside legal advice on legislation - isn't new.

In the 1970s, Harford County officials changed their charter to provide separate legal counsel for executive and legislative branches. In Montgomery County, the council hires two full-time attorneys to handle legal issues.

In Howard County, although the county's legal office is not formally divided, elected officials have the right to reject a county attorney candidate, muting some of the politics.

Klocko, a seven-year veteran of county politics, is one of several council members who are backing an effort led by Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat who has never seen eye to eye with the county executive, to get outside legal aid.

Samorajczyk said the law office is slow to respond to the council's needs, and that it has flip-flopped on at least one opinion when it suited the Owens administration. She said she wants to alter the county charter to "provide more checks and balances."

Schuett, immediate past president of the Maryland Association of County Civil Attorneys, said the county's legal system is the same as those in most local jurisdictions. She said that adding another "layer of lawyers at the expense of the taxpayer really just isn't a good idea."

"We provide the best legal advice for the county as a whole, no matter who asks for it," the county attorney said.

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