A city ethics board and a state panel that disciplines lawyers are investigating complaints against Baltimore City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., according to the police union official who sought both inquiries.
Gary McLhinney, president of the city branch of the Fraternal Order of Police, said yesterday that officials with both boards told him they have begun looking into whether Zollicoffer violated his ethical obligations as a lawyer and a city official when he interfered with a police investigation of his nephew.
Officials with the boards have declined to comment publicly on the status or existence of the complaints, noting the need for confidentiality. But McLhinney, as the person who filed the complaints against Zollicoffer, has been privy to information about the progress of the investigations.
McLhinney said he received confirmation that the city's investigation was under way last week, when he phoned Norman E. Parker Jr., chairman of Baltimore's Board of Ethics. McLhinney said he called after learning that under the city charter, the solicitor appoints one person to the five-member ethics board. Zollicoffer appointed Dan Friedman, who works for him as chief of litigation in the city's law department.
"I wanted to make sure that guy was recused," McLhinney said. " ... Asking them to judge the actions of their boss is probably not a good idea."
Parker assured McLhinney that Friedman had recused himself and also indicated that the investigation had begun, McLhinney said.
Parker and Friedman declined to comment yesterday, as did Zollicoffer.
Officials with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission also have indicated in the past few weeks that they have taken up the complaint against Zollicoffer, McLhinney said.
"They've asked us for supporting material," McLhinney said. "They've assigned an investigator because I've talked to him."
Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the commission, declined to comment.
The complaints stem from an incident April 30, when Zollicoffer showed up at his nephew's Northeast Baltimore home and interfered with the young man's arrest on drug charges.
Zollicoffer has apologized for challenging the officers' right to be at his nephew's house while they awaited a search warrant and for comparing them to the Gestapo. Officers said Zollicoffer also threatened their jobs and used racially charged language, which Zollicoffer has denied.
In his complaints to the grievance commission and city ethics board, McLhinney said Zollicoffer's actions were "a violation of his ethical obligations as a licensed attorney in that he knowingly attempted to use the power of his position as City Solicitor to hinder and interfere with a police investigation for the benefit of a family member."
The commission, which can recommend sanctions up to and including disbarment, has 90 days from the date of McLhinney's May 3 complaint to complete its inquiry. The city ethics board, which can recommend discipline up to and including dismissal, does not operate under a specific deadline.