Stadium Authority inquiry likely

State auditors may probe hiring of lawyer to explore Major League Baseball lawsuit



State auditors will likely review the Maryland Stadium Authority's decision to spend more than $100,000 on an outside lawyer to explore litigation against Major League Baseball, a leading legislator said yesterday.

Del. Charles E. Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat who co-chairs the legislature's Joint Audit Committee, said he is concerned about the authority's decision to hire prominent Baltimore lawyer William H. Murphy Jr. for the work, which the Office of the Attorney General has said it was able to perform.

"They've done outside counsel before, but this was a good deal of money," Barkley said. "There needs to be some follow-up."

The Stadium Authority, which owns Oriole Park at Camden Yards, gave Murphy's firm a no-bid contract in November 2004 to look into suing Major League Baseball over concerns that bringing a team to Washington would hurt stadium revenue.

Murphy's firm worked on the case for about four months, but Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos settled with the league and no suit was filed.

The authority's executive director, Allison L. Asti, has said it was her decision to give Murphy the contract. She said she believed state lawyers were too busy with other cases.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s office released a statement yesterday saying that Curran called authority Chairman Carl A.J. Wright to voice concerns about the contract.

According to the statement, Curran told Wright yesterday that "the Office of the Attorney General had been involved in preparation for this contemplated litigation [and] that it was ready, able and willing to continue to assist the Authority and the State in the litigation ... and that it remains available to represent them."

Curran said his office will seek to "clarify the role the Attorney General must play in litigation" with the agencies it represents, but that any further review of the contract with Murphy, an ally of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., should come from the Stadium Authority and the state's fiscal oversight authorities.

Wright said last night the authority has often hired outside attorneys, and that he welcomed a review by auditors. "I've got a clean bill of health," he said.

The Office of Legislative Audits faulted the Stadium Authority for no-bid contracts last year, saying the agency had awarded $66 million in construction contracts without following normal procedures. The authority then adopted a new policy, which allows no-bid contracts in certain circumstances, including pending or threatened litigation.

Barkley said he would talk to audit committee staff members about an inquiry, and could question Stadium Authority staffers at the panel's meeting next month.

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