League creates connections on and off the field

Court system softball players compete while networking.

July 03, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

He may have been at war with prosecutors in a high-profile trial in May, but lawyer David P. Putzi was recently drawing cheers from the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office. An alumnus of that office but a current member of its softball team, he'd just smacked a ball over the fence.

"Did you want to look at it for a while before you ran?" sighed former Circuit Judge David S. Bruce, first baseman on the opposing team, as Putzi took his time rounding the bases.

Not long after, lawyer Shannon T. Waldron almost reached first base when the umpire declared her hit a foul ball, prompting a Severn Savings & Loan Association teammate to call for another expert opinion.

This is the Anne Arundel Bar Association softball league, where multi-walled bats are what's illegal, the person issuing the decisions stands by home plate and most technicalities don't matter.

It's known as the lawyer's league, but not everyone in it is a lawyer. About 100 are attorneys, and another 30 or so are in some way linked with lawyers or the courts, including bail bondsmen, court reporters, law firm employees and their families, sheriff's deputies, court clerks and bank workers. Each team is allowed a few skilled players with no direct tie to lawyers.

The informality lends itself to socializing as well as networking, lawyers say. Though attorneys are known to have settled cases at a game, far more routine is arranging to discuss a case over lunch.

"Every so often I have had a forfeiture case I have settled on the softball field," said Assistant State's Attorney Trevor A. Kiessling Jr., who quit playing for his office's team two years ago.

Ball field introductions can set the stage for later talks. For one thing, it is often impossible for opposing lawyers to make progress toward settling a case while their warring clients are launching verbal daggers in a courthouse corridor full of people eavesdropping as they walk by. For another, the ball field atmosphere brings fresh air to assessing the strength of a case.

"If someone is wearing a sweaty jersey, they are less likely to puff their case," said lawyer Allen W. Cohen, a player on the South Street team.

The networking is not only for case referrals. John Hamilton, who plays on the Severn Savings & Loan team, got his job with a Baltimore law firm through ball-field ties.

"I got my office space through playing softball," said William C. Mulford II, a solo practitioner, on the Law & Disorder team.

And when a client needed a court reporter service, Mulford thought of David Corbin of Corbin & Hook Reporting (and the softball team of the same name).

A generation ago, Anne Arundel lawyers were acquainted with most other lawyers practicing locally. But that has changed, as their numbers have mushroomed along with the county's growing population. The Anne Arundel Bar Association has 988 members, up from 758 a decade ago, and few don't specialize. That has made it increasingly difficult to know who's who, lawyers say. For some, the value of the association is strictly the meet-and-greet outlets like softball.

In the early 1970s, attorneys played once a year on a judge's cow pasture, where hitting the barn on a fly counted as a home run, said Timothy H. Sheridan, league commissioner and civil case administrator for the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

By the early 1980s, with a few law firms among the local offices sprouting teams, prosecutors, public defenders and zoning lawyers also began fielding teams.

The league formed in 1987, making Thursday softball night because Wednesdays were for sailing and Fridays for happy hour. For years, the league played on school fields around Annapolis. Two years ago, it joined the city's Recreation and Parks Department's adult leagues. With the move to Truxtun Park's well-groomed fields came marvels in short-sleeve shirts: umpires.

"Before we had refs, the attorneys would argue like crazy - they were never wrong, and they think they know the rules," said Kevin M. Schaeffer, a 2003 association president who plays on Law & Disorder.

Some teams are more orderly than others. A few keep scorebooks.

"Nobody on our team has a number. We are not that organized," said C. Edward Hartman III, of the Hartman & Egeli team that takes its name from the Annapolis law firm of which he is a partner.

"Never will you see our team out there all with the same shirt on," said Paul Cox, the bail bondsman on the North County team.

There have also been some rivalries. The state's attorney's office lost a chief competitor this year when the Office of the Public Defender failed to field a team. Legislative Services and the Governor's Budget Office have had some spirited contests. And while first-place powerhouse North County may scoff at last-place South Street, the latter's players maintain they have the most fun and lovely baby-blue jerseys.

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