City attorney lacks a license

Acting Annapolis official lost state certification two years ago

December 19, 2008|By Julie Scharper and Susan Gvozdas | Julie Scharper and Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Baltimore Sun

For the past three months, Stephen Kling has served as the acting city attorney for Annapolis. He has reviewed documents, filed court papers and briefed city officials on legal issues.

But there's a problem: Kling, at least for now, is not licensed to practice law in Maryland.

Kling, 59, lost his state certification two years ago after he failed to turn in paperwork documenting his pro bono work. After learning about his status, the Annapolis city council scurried to an emergency session yesterday to examine the legal ramifications for the city.

"We're in a potentially serious position," said David H. Cordle Sr., a Republican alderman from Ward 5. "I'm concerned about the consequences for the city."

Kling said that he was not aware that he had lost his certification and that he prides himself on doing a lot of pro bono work.

"There was plainly a mistake on my part of some sort," Kling said. "I think I dropped the ball somewhere, but how, I don't know."

Kling, who has been in private practice in Annapolis for more than 25 years, was hired as an assistant city attorney in September, around the time that former city attorney Shaem Spencer became a judge. Andreese Williams served as city attorney for several weeks after Spencer, but then she left, too, and Mayor Ellen O. Moyer appointed Kling as acting city attorney in early October.

"He was familiar with the city and had done some pro bono work for the city and the Department of Human Resources," Moyer said.

The mayor has contacted the state attorney general to see if any of Kling's actions have been nullified by his status. She said that she does not plan to take any disciplinary action against Kling, and that the oversight does not cause her to question his abilities as an attorney.

"I know enough about paperwork that comes into an office to know that occasionally things get misplaced," Moyer said.

Kling, an Annapolis resident, said that he is avoiding signing documents until his certification has been reinstated. He said that he believes that very little of his work for the city attorney's office will be nullified by his status.

"The vast majority of the work of the office doesn't involve courts or formal legal documents that you sign your name to as attorney-at-large," he said.

Kling filed the paperwork Wednesday after a blogger brought the issue to light in an online posting and in an e-mail sent to council members and to Moyer's office. Kling expects to find out Monday whether he will be recertified to practice law.

Lawyers who do not file the report with the Administrative Office of the Courts can be decertified - or have their right to practice in Maryland revoked. About 200 lawyers a year are notified of this action every year, said Darrell Pressley, a spokesman for the Maryland Judiciary. He said he could not comment on whether Kling had been notified of his decertification. Lawyers can get recertified once they submit the appropriate paperwork.

Cordle said it was necessary to call an emergency meeting. "I'm talking about transparency here," he said.

He and other city council members were quick to say that they respected Kling and did not object to him being the city attorney in the future. They just want to make sure that the city is not liable.

"There is no suggestion of incompetence being made about Mr. Kling," said alderman Richard Israel, a Democrat who represents Ward 1.

Paul Foer, the blogger who posted the information on his Web site, said Kling's fitness for the job should be called into question.

"What gets me is that this is an easy thing to do," Foer said. "You have to wonder if he's not aware of the laws that govern being a lawyer, what else doesn't he know?"

Kling apologized to the city council for what he described as an oversight. "I'm more embarrassed about the impact on the city," he said.

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