County solicitor nominee chosen

Nolan to replace Cook, if confirmed by the council

February 23, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

A veteran Maryland assistant attorney general who lives in Ellicott City will be Howard County's top lawyer, if approved by the County Council.

Margaret Ann Nolan, 55, chief of civil litigation for Maryland and a former president of the Font Hill Community Association, is County Executive Ken Ulman's nominee, he announced yesterday at a news conference. Nolan would replace Barbara Cook, county solicitor for two decades, who is retiring March 1.

Nolan's name will be submitted to the County Council on March 5. A public hearing is scheduled March 19, with a vote to follow April 4. Deputy County Solicitor Paul Johnson will be acting solicitor in the interim.

Ulman said the solicitor's job is "an incredibly important function of county government that the public rarely sees or hears about."

Ulman said Nolan's 18 years in the attorney general's office advising state agencies, which included work in youth and families, education and health, and overseeing all civil litigation since 2004, was just the background he was searching for.

"She's had to balance the competing interests of the legislature, the attorney general and the governor and the executive branch," he said. She has the perfect mixture of management experience and integrity, he added.

Ulman said Nolan's name was suggested by Kevin Enright, Ulman's communications director. Enright was spokesman for former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Raquel Guillory, a spokesman for state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, said, "People here are heartbroken to see her go. She's a brilliant professional who did a wonderful job."

Carmen M. Shepard, a former deputy attorney general now in private practice, endorsed that view.

"Margaret Ann was a star in the office. She rose as quickly as one could rise to positions of increasing responsibility and leadership. My view is Howard County has made a wise decision," she said.

Nolan said her new $141,710 job ($4,200 less than Cook) seems to her like a return to her earlier days advising state agencies.

"It does make it more exciting when matters are close to home," she said about working on cases in her home county. "I always felt a very personal and close connection to the work I have done."

In her state job, Nolan represented the state in recent high-profile cases, including the so-called Wal-Mart health care law, a challenge to Maryland's marriage laws, and The Sun's freedom of the press lawsuit opposing the governor's banning of state employees from talking to two Sun reporters. She also defended Ehrlich's right to eliminate health care for low-income immigrant children.

Charles D. Tobin, attorney for the newspaper in the press case, said Nolan "always managed to stay above the political machinations of the Ehrlich administration and simply did her best job for the client."

Nolan, a Goucher College graduate, has lived in Ellicott City since 1988 with her husband, Mark Houck. They have three children, who range in age from 20 to 27.

Ulman said Cook's retirement is "bittersweet" for the county, and she agreed.

"I've had a wonderful ride here. I can't believe the time has gone by so quickly," said Cook, 64. "It's a really wonderful experience to work in your own county and make things better."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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