Ex-police chief contests firing

Clark argues his contract was illegal

February 02, 2007|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,sun reporter

When Kevin P. Clark became Baltimore's police commissioner in February 2003, he accepted a salary and benefits among the most generous of any city employee.

At issue yesterday in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, was whether Clark also accepted a contract that legally allowed the mayor to fire him for any reason.

The city argued - as it has in earlier lower-court proceedings - that Clark signed such a contract and should be held to it.

His attorneys argued that the contract Clark signed was illegal because it violated a state law that says the commissioner "is subject to removal by the Mayor on grounds of official misconduct, malfeasance, inefficiency or incompetency, including prolonged illness."

To expand the reasons beyond those listed, Clark's attorney's argue, makes the contract invalid and, thus, unenforceable.

Former Mayor Martin O'Malley fired Clark in November 2005 after allegations the commissioner had been involved in disputes with his estranged wife. Clark countered that he had been fired because he had launched investigations into alleged corruption within the mayor's administration.

Clark's lawsuit, seeking $120 million and return to his job, was dismissed in April 2005 in Baltimore Circuit Court. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reinstated the lawsuit in July and the city appealed to the state's highest court, setting up yesterday's hearing.

"Mr. Clark negotiated - with the advice of attorneys - his employment contract with the city," Ralph S. Tyler, who was city solicitor when Clark was commissioner and Martin O'Malley was mayor, told the seven-judge panel in Annapolis. Tyler is now Governor O'Malley's legal counsel. "It was a contract that conferred on him all kinds of special benefits for which he agreed to."

One of those contractual terms, argued Tyler, was accepting the right to be terminated without cause at any time. In his brief to the court, Tyler quoted the contract: "Each party may terminate this contract at any time, by giving forty-five (45) days prior written notice to the other."

Clark's attorney, Neil M. Janey Sr., argued that the city could not enter into a contract that violated state law and that leaving the post of police commissioner under the mayor's control was dangerous.

"The police commissioner is serving the public interest," he said. "The mayor simply doesn't have the power under the current law" to remove him.

Clark was fired as reports of previous domestic disputes were becoming public. The first occurred in Mount Vernon, N.Y., when, records show, officers visited the home he had shared with his wife. The couple was separated at the time, and Clark had told officers that the dispute involved custody of their children.

Officers reported that neither Clark nor his wife suffered any injuries, and they suggested he pursue the matter in family court. No charges were filed.

The existence of previous domestic disputes involving Clark came to light while he was being investigated for a May 15, 2004 dispute with his fiancee.

Tyler said outside the courtroom he was "loaned" to the city to continue the Clark case.

todd.richissin@baltsun.com

Clark suit arises from deep roots

The lawsuit filed by Kevin P. Clark to get his job back as Baltimore police commissioner is rooted in history almost as old as the city itself and recalls a centuries-old power struggle between state and city leaders over control of law enforcement in Baltimore.

The first police - known as a night watch - began appearing on Baltimore streets in 1784 and slowly developed into a full force. By 1860, the state Court of Appeals noted in an opinion that the police "had failed to suppress the disorder and lawlessness which prevailed to an alarming extent, and the riots and bloodshed which invariably accompanied a general or local election. The law was defied; the public peace was disturbed; the constabulary were powerless, if not in sympathy with the mob."

In 1861, at the onset of the Civil War, Southern sympathizers and Union troops clashed in the Pratt Street riot, killing soldiers and civilians. The federal government put Baltimore under marshal law, and the police chief, George P. Kane, his commissioners, the mayor and other local officials were jailed at Fort McHenry as suspected secessionists.

The military handed control of city police to the state in 1861, and six years later the General Assembly decided to run the Baltimore police force by a commission selected by state lawmakers. It was done, in part, to remove political interference from City Hall. It was further codified in 1966, when it was written into law that the governor had the authority to appoint and remove the city police commissioner.

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