Former county attorney likes being on her own

Accountant-turned-lawyer has taken winding but independent path in her 20-year career

April 14, 2006|By GERALD P. MERRELL | GERALD P. MERRELL,SUN REPORTER

Katherine L. Taylor was one year away from being named a partner at a prestigious law firm and, with that, presumably, a six-figure salary and bonus.

She did the inconceivable: Taylor walked away and took a cut in pay to become a county employee.

Then two years ago, she left the security of municipal employment to open her own law firm - with a client list of one.

Some might doubt Taylor's prudence, but those decisions came easily to her.

She has, first, an independent streak as hardened as steel, so going against convention seems inconsequential. And, more important, Taylor would rather be wedded to her family than her career.

One should not surmise, though, that she is ambivalent about her job.

"She's very bright, very tenacious and has terrific people skills," says Ward B. Coe III, a partner with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP, the Baltimore firm she left in 1993. " ... She knows exactly where she wants to go for her clients, and she'll get there."

The accuracy of that assessment was learned recently by David A. Carney, one the most sought-after attorneys in Howard County, whose clients include some of the largest developers, in his first head-to-head confrontation with her.

Taylor, retained by several homeowners, made a case against a petition to rezone property for development so convincingly that the county Planning Board signaled midway through the hearing that it would side against Carney's client. The board unanimously rejected the application.

While the Zoning Board, which is made up of the five members of the County Council, will hear the case this month and could overturn the decision, Taylor's resounding first-round victory demonstrated that she is no one to take casually.

Taylor regards Carney as one of the two "gurus of zoning" in the county (attorney Richard B. Talkin is the other, she says), but she insists she was not intimidated facing him.

"It means at least someone's going to be paying attention to that case," she says. "It is an opportunity to show that I can do as good a job."

She is likely to have many more opportunities. Land-use issues are among those Taylor concentrates on in her practice. She was, for example, retained last week to oppose a discharge permit that is essential to a subdivision being proposed in Ellicott City.

Taylor's entry into law was, if not accidental, simply a convenient way of getting ahead in her chosen profession - banking.

Taylor was born on Sept. 27, 1959, in Miami, the second of three daughters of Harlan and Nancy Taylor.

The family moved to Charlotte, N.C., when Taylor was 4. Her father worked in the transportation industry and later opened a storage and distribution company, while her mother cared for the home and children.

The children, Taylor recalls, "didn't have a lot of free time" as they were required to do yard work and house chores. The family, though, took frequent camping trips to the mountains, the Outer Banks and Florida.

Parents were strict

Her parents were strict and conservative and taught old-fashioned values. "Respect is probably the main thing," Taylor says. "Respect for your elders, authority and respect for the work ethic."

Their conservative views revealed themselves frequently, first as protests over the Vietnam War swept the country, then over civil rights, particularly when their community was riven by desegregation efforts.

Taylor was in middle school when a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1971 ushered in court-ordered busing for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County school system.

Taylor opposed busing at the time. "I had friends who didn't go to my high school. ... They got sent to a school halfway across the city," she says. But in retrospect, she says, "I feel like I really gained a lot by being in an environment with kids of other races."

Taylor was always a good student, earning mostly As and Bs. She joined an honor society and a girls civic club, but she says she was shy and had only a couple of close friends until high school, when she "kind of branched out. ... Certainly in high school it was important to be a part of a larger group," Taylor says. "It was a good way to be a part of what was going on."

Her favorite subject was math ("because I was good at it"), which explains why Taylor was so shocked when she received a D in calculus. She acknowledges she took the subject for granted: "I was upset because I realized I probably didn't study enough. ... I didn't really try to learn it."

It isn't a mistake she repeated.

By the time she graduated, in 1977, her parents had divorced. Her father remarried and moved to Georgia, and her mother became a real estate broker and later remarried, as well.

Taylor had choices to make, but they were motivated more by pragmatism. She elected to go to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte ("a good school, certainly not the best, but it was convenient and priced right") and she majored in accounting because she was good in math and "I needed to choose something."

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