The attorney general's office is contending that the independent state agency that owns Oriole Park at Camden Yards exceeded its authority by paying more than $100,000 to a prominent Baltimore attorney to explore potential litigation against Major League Baseball.
Though the Maryland Stadium Authority ultimately did not file a suit, it paid the law firm of William H. Murphy Jr. & Associates for about four months of work beginning last year, according to a story first reported in yesterday's Washington Post.
Officials with the attorney general's office asserted yesterday that although they did not intend to investigate the matter further, state law clearly places the authority to litigate with the attorney general. "This is not a question of procurement law, it is a question of the authority of the attorney general to direct and control litigation in which the State of Maryland or its units have an interest," said Deputy Attorney General Maureen Dove in an e-mail.
The Stadium Authority's executive director, Alison L. Asti, confirmed yesterday that it was her decision to enter into a no-bid contract with Murphy, a former judge and political ally of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Asti said she made the decision because state lawyers appeared to be busy with other cases.
But Dove said the attorney general's office stopped researching the issue when it became unclear whether litigation would be needed. "The Office of the Attorney General has never been `too busy' to play its appropriate role in litigation of interest to the State," Dove said.
Murphy was hired to look into filling a suit against Major League Baseball because of concerns that the introduction of a team in Washington would hurt revenue at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos resolved the issue with the league and a suit was never filed.
The authority has been under fire in the past. A legislative audit last year found that the authority awarded $66 million in construction contracts without normal bidding. The authority adopted a new procurement policy last year, which allows for no-bid contracts under certain conditions, including pending or threatening litigation, Asti said.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim, chairman of the House of Delegate's government operations subcommittee, said that the authority appears to have acted within the rules. "A number of state agencies do hire outside attorneys," said Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat. "I was not aware that permission is required. If there is, then we'll take a look at it."
The case illustrates the growing tension between Ehrlich, a Republican, and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat. Curran's daughter is married to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who announced last week that he will challenge Ehrlich for the governor's seat.
Murphy pointed to the politics of the situation. "This was a case that was extraordinarily difficult legally, politically and economically," Murphy said. "If you were the Maryland Stadium Authority, would you hire a .400 hitter respected by all sides? Or would you hire a .250 hitter whose boss is a political enemy of the governor and of Mr. Angelos and whose agenda would be to politically embarrass the administration?"
Said Kevin Enright, spokesman for Curran: "This is typical Billy Murphy talk rebutted by Attorney General Curran's 40-year record of integrity and success. It's not worthy of a response."