No Maryland law license? No problem

Baltimore deputy state's attorney doesn't have to belong to state bar, under constitution

March 14, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's new chief deputy state's attorney may not be a member of the Maryland bar, but it turns out that's not a problem so long as he's doing administrative work and not practicing law, according to several oversight agencies.

"There's nothing that outright says this is prohibited," said Kay Winfree, chief deputy attorney general.

The Maryland Constitution requires that regional state's attorneys be "admitted to practice Law in this State," but it doesn't say much at all about deputies, which means George Hazel is in the clear.

The former federal prosecutor was recently hired as the new chief deputy under Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, even though he's not licensed to practice in Maryland — a situation that was called "problematic" last week by the secretary of the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners.

But under the law, it doesn't seem to matter.

"If he is doing administrative acts, then he very well may not be practicing law, and it is not problematic," said Glenn Grossman, bar counsel of the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission.

The Maryland Code defines practicing law as giving legal advice, representing clients, preparing court documents and being consulted on cases. But Hazel isn't doing any of that, according to Bernstein's spokesman, who said Hazel is helping reshape the office and isn't handling cases.

"So much of what a deputy state's attorney does is administrative," explained Winfree, who was a deputy state's attorney in Montgomery County for years. She also helped craft a report on best practices for Bernstein, who took office in January.

That experience tells her that he and Hazel are spending their first few months in the jobs "looking at reorganizing the office, what's right there, what's wrong there," she said. "There's really nothing legal involved in that."

Hazel is licensed to practice in D.C. and Virginia, according to Bernstein's office. He plans to take a Maryland exam for out-of-state attorneys in July, and could be admitted to practice here by December.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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