Work goes to firm with tie to O'Malley

City uses law office of campaign treasurer

partners see no conflict

September 08, 2006|By Gus G. Sentementes and John Fritze | Gus G. Sentementes and John Fritze,Sun reporters

A politically connected law firm that has employed Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign treasurer for the past six years has been awarded more than $1.2 million in city legal contracts since 2000, city records show.

Brown & Sheehan and its predecessor firm have won city contracts dating to mid-2000, mostly for work defending officers and commanders for the Baltimore Police Department, those records show.

The law firm employed O'Malley campaign treasurer Martin F. Cadogan -- first as an attorney, then as a partner -- during the same time the city's Board of Estimates voted to award many of the contracts.

David M. Sheehan, a founding partner, defended the firm's record for obtaining city work, saying that Cadogan was not involved in the contracts, did not do legal work connected to them and did not benefit financially. City officials and an attorney with the firm also noted that Brown & Sheehan's predecessor received its first contract with the city before Cadogan was hired.

"We're comfortable with it because we're comfortable that Marty separates out his political role from his legal role in the firm," Sheehan said. "We're comfortable with it because it reflects such a tiny fraction of our overall business. We think the city really values our work."

Neither the city solicitor's office, which oversees the work of outside legal contractors, nor the mayor's office could say how the firm, a certified minority business, was selected or whether its contracts were competitively bid. Typically, professional services contracts, which are awarded to outside law firms, such as Brown & Sheehan, consultants and others, are approved by the Board of Estimates but are not competitively bid.

O'Malley sits on the five-member Board of Estimates and appoints two other voting members, the city solicitor and the head of the department of public works. An O'Malley spokeswoman referred questions to the solicitor.

Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said he did not know why Brown & Sheehan was selected, though he said there are a limited number of firms -- particularly ones certified as a minority businesses -- able to perform the work. Tyler said the city's use of the firm does not represent a conflict for O'Malley.

"It's my understanding that Mr. Cadogan does not participate in the profits of the firm and therefore would derive no benefits from the firm's representation of the city or its agencies," Tyler said.

Generally, equity partners in law firms share in the profits. However, Cadogan and others said he is a nonequity partner and said he does not reap financial benefit from cases with which he is not involved.

Brown & Sheehan, with offices in Locust Point, has five partners and nine associates and does a wide range of legal work, including commercial litigation, corporate and employment law, and government representation. Before 2004, the firm was known as Brown, Diffenderffer & Kearney.

The firm's Web site indicates that Cadogan practices "business and corporate law, real estate development and general civil litigation with an emphasis on insurance defense." The site says that Cadogan has been O'Malley's treasurer since 1990.

The University of Baltimore Law School graduate joined the firm in late September 2000, said Troy A. Priest, who is also a partner. The firm became Brown & Sheehan in January 2004, when Sheehan joined and other partners left.

On Aug. 23, 2000, about a month before Cadogan joined, the city approved a $140,000 contract with the firm, according to minutes from the Board of Estimates. Under that agreement, the firm was hired to defend police officials in civil or criminal cases.

"To my knowledge, it was not bid," Sheehan said of that early contract, awarded after O'Malley became mayor but before Cadogan joined the firm. Cadogan was named a partner in early 2004, when the firm's name changed, Priest said.

Other contracts to Brown & Sheehan and its predecessor included, according to city records:

In January 2001, a shared $200,000 contract with another firm to provide legal services to the city Parking Authority. Though the city did not provide supportive documents, officials and the firm said the department interviewed several law firms before selecting two for the job.

In May 2001, a supplemental contract for $100,000 for Police Department-related work, and another $160,000 contract for police work that same year -- one of three law firms given that amount.

In August 2002, Brown, Diffenderffer & Kearney received two contracts that, together, were valued at $270,000.

In 2003, the firm was listed as a minority subcontractor on a project for the Bureau of Water and Wastewater, this time for $95,450. Later that year, the firm received a second contract for police work, again for $160,000.

In April 2004, the firm won a $350,000 contract for police-related work. It also appears to have shared a contract with another firm for $160,000 the following month.

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