First Baltimore: Will Prince George’s be next?

Saying Baltimore had the right idea, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is seeking a constitutional amendment that would require the judges on the Prince George’s County Orphan’s Court to be Maryland attorneys.

“Life is so complicated and estates are so large,” Miller told a Senate panel Wednesday in explaining why judges who hear probate cases in one of Maryland’s most populous counties should be learned in the law.

“You need somebody sharp on the orphans’ court,” Miller, D-Prince George’s and Calvert, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “You need somebody trained in the law.”

But Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a committee member, appeared unconvinced. “A wise and compassionate CPA” who understands the financial implications of wills, trusts and estates would make a fine orphans’ court judge, said Forehand, D-Montgomery.

Miller disagreed, saying certified public accountants are better suited at providing expert testimony in orphans’ court cases than at making the ultimate legal conclusion.

If the General Assembly approves the amendment — Senate Bill 281 — Maryland voters will be asked in November 2012 if orphans’ court judges in Prince George’s County must be Maryland lawyers.

Miller’s testimony followed the ratification by Maryland voters last November of a constitutional amendment requiring that judges on the Orphans’ Court of Baltimore City be Maryland attorneys. The amendment made Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court the only one in the state whose judges must be members of the bar.

Ratification also led Gov. Martin O’Malley to refuse to seat Ramona Moore Baker, a non-lawyer, on the Baltimore court — even though she had won election to the bench the same day as the statewide vote. O’Malley said he was following the advice of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who concluded that seating Moore would violate the newly amended constitution.

With foreclosures, it’s ‘buyer be insured’

During the foreclosure crisis, much of the attention has focused on the people who have lost their homes.

But what about the purchasers of the foreclosed properties faced with what 50 state attorneys general – including Maryland’s Douglas F. Gansler — say is the real possibility that those foreclosures contained paperwork errors?

The situation illustrates why buyers should always insist on having their own title insurance coverage, rather than relying on the title policy the lenders insist they purchase, says real-estate attorney Lawrence S. Conn, of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones PA in Baltimore.

“This is exactly the type of title defect that title insurance is designed to protect,” Conn said of paperwork errors in the foreclosure process.

The lender’s title policy, though, protects only the lender. Anything beyond that, such as the buyer’s down payment, would require an owners’ title policy, which is only marginally more expensive.

A buyer neglects this added coverage at his or her own peril, Conn added.

“Make sure that in this climate, [purchasers] certainly have title insurance,” he said.

Will the governor come calling?

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler might soon be getting a call from Gov. Martin O’Malley, if he hasn’t already received one, seeking a campaign donation.

The governor, in his solicitation, might raise the following points:

  • Gansler is running unopposed for re-election; O’Malley is not.
  • Gansler has campaign money he need not spend on himself; O’Malley does not.
  • Gansler might want to run for governor in four years; O’Malley cannot if he wins re-election this fall against Republican challenger Robert Ehrlich and is term-limited out of office.
  • Gansler, if he plans a gubernatorial run, thus has a rooting interest in O’Malley’s victory this fall, as it is easier to win an open seat than one occupied by an incumbent (O’Malley’s win over then-Gov. Ehrlich in 2006 being an exception).

But cheers of “Go, Martin, Go” do not win re-election fights. Money does — and Gansler has plenty to spare.

The attorney general might also want to spread the wealth. Donating to many Democrats in tight races this fall could be an investment that pays dividends for Gansler in 2014 when he might seek gubernatorial-campaign support.

Gansler, fellow attorneys general send slick letter to BP

The missive Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and 10 of his East Coast colleagues sent Monday to embattled British Petroleum reads like the proverbial lawyer’s letter subtly threatening litigation if the Gulf of Mexico oil spill spreads to the Atlantic Ocean.

First, the letter from the 11 attorneys general contains the language of a legal claim for damages.

“Though the immediate area of impact from this catastrophe is in the Gulf region, portions of the East Coast are at foreseeable risk of substantial harm,” the letter states (emphasis added). “Even if our coast waters and communities are not directly impacted, there may well be significant harm to the migratory bird and fish species that form an important part of our natural resources and economy.” Continue reading

The AG is not pleased

The Maryland legal community’s best-known Redskins fan is not pleased with the addition of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to the roster of his favorite team. To put it mildly.

“It’s horrible,” Attorney General Doug Gansler told me this morning at the end of an interview. “Donovan McNabb has never been a good quarterback.”

“I can’t believe you’re going on the record saying that,” said his spokeswoman, who was also in the room.

“It’s very sad,” said Gansler, who in-season has a gig providing pregame commentary on Redskins games for “Redskins Kickoff.” “It’s what they always do. The Redskins will go out and try and find someone that everyone’s heard of and stick him on the team, and it’s never worked.

Jason Campbell, if they gave him any kind of linemen, he would have been great. And then what’s going to happen is, he’s going to go to another team and be an all-pro for six years and Donovan McNabb will be watching that from his old-age home.”

“Don’t go to Philly anytime soon,” the spokeswoman warned.

Dwyer Gives Gansler A Shake

Those expecting fireworks between Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., R-Anne Arundel, when the two met before a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday were sadly disappointed.

Dwyer, who said he plans to call for Gansler’s impeachment this month, extended his right hand and greeted the attorney general before the committee session. Gansler accepted the handshake and returned the greeting.

Gansler appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to testify in favor of a constitutional amendment to eliminate contested elections for circuit court judges. (Read all about it here.)

Dwyer, a member of the Judiciary Committee, wants to oust Gansler over the opinion he issued last month on same-sex marriage. The opinion supports Maryland’s recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions, even though such marriages are illegal here.

Dwyer says the opinion violates Gansler’s oath to uphold Maryland law, which defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Gansler counters that Maryland is required under the federal Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause to accept legally binding contracts — including marriage contracts — from other states.

Thinking of same-sex marriage litigation? Proceed with caution, LGBT groups say

I just got a press release notifying me of a new Frequently Asked Questions document put out by a host of gay-rights groups. It’s meant to guide Maryland same-sex couples on their legal rights in the wake of Doug Gansler’s opinion favoring recognition of out-of-state gay marriages.

One thing that caught my eye is the FAQ’s approach to whether couples who feel their marriage-recognition rights have been denied should litigate. The answer: a big, italicized, “no.” Well, or at least a “not yet,” or a “for Pete’s sake, not without consulting us first.” From the FAQ:

It’s important to bear in mind that rushing into litigation often is not the answer. Many problems can be worked out without resort to the courts. Others may someday need to be resolved through litigation, and important protections for same-sex couples ultimately may need to be vindicated in the courts. But with marriage recognition bringing many important rights for many families, any litigation that could have broader impact on how the marriage recognition rule applies should be the product of careful thought and planning. A bad ruling could have far-reaching negative impact for your marriage and the marriages of many other couples.

I’m thinking the LGBT groups don’t want aggrieved same-sex marrieds taking a page from the Janice M. v. Margaret K. playbook. That was the same-sex ex child visitation case that was extensively litigated in Baltimore County and eventually went all the way up to the Court of Appeals. The top court held that, contrary to prior Court of Special Appeals holdings, Maryland does not recognize de facto parenthood, which had been an important tool for parents’ ex-lovers who wanted access to the children over the parent’s objections.

It will be interesting to see if all concerned heed the advice of the FAQ.

Gansler’s Hope

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler strongly indicated late yesterday that — surprise, surprise — he intends to run for re-election this year.

Gansler, who has yet to declare formally for another four-year term, dominated the news yesterday with the release of his written opinion that Maryland must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Buried by the avalanche of the opinion’s coverage was the Supreme Court’s decision reinstating a Maryland man’s child sexual abuse conviction. Gansler had successfully argued the state’s appeal to the justices.

Asked whether his high-court victory was a good omen for his as-yet unannounced re-election bid, Gansler did not hesitate.

“I hope so,” he said.

So, does Gansler have your vote?

This Week in Maryland Lawyer

On the Cover:  Welcome to the first Monday in October! This morning marks the Supreme Court debut of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Assistant Public Defender Celia Anderson Davis, who will argue over a Hagerstown man’s child sex abuse conviction. The question is whether a request for counsel, years earlier, should have stopped police from questioning the suspect without a lawyer after they obtained additional information. Read the main story, some advice from Gansler’s predecessor, and a preview of the new term.

In the News: The Court of Appeals heard argument in a legal malpractice case that challenges the “case within a case” methodology … the ban on self-represented lawyers claiming attorneys’ fees applies even to bad faith or frivolous actions, the Court of Special Appeals holds … Maryland Legal Services Corp. renews its quest for a higher filing-fee surcharge … Sen. Ben Cardin finds a civil audience for his health-care talk at UB Law… and a former CBS Early Show personality appeals a ruling that knocked out his medical malpractice claim.


Maryland molestation case set for SCOTUS opener

van-grack.jpgThe Supreme Court will be packed for Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Assistant Public Defender Celia A. Davis when they argue the case of Maryland v. Shatzer before the justices.

The draw will not be the case itself, though it does present an intriguing right to counsel issue. Nor will most of the public be enticed primarily by the participants (with apologies to Mr. Gansler and Ms. Davis).

No, the attraction will be the date of the high-court showdown: Oct. 5, the first Monday in October. Not only will the day mark the opening of the Supreme Court’s 2009-2010 term but also, presumably, the first day on the bench for Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed former Justice David H. Souter, who retired this summer.

A Senate vote on Sotomayor’s anticipated confirmation is expected within the next few weeks.

Maryland v. Shatzer is scheduled to be the second case argued on that historic day.

In Shatzer, the state is appealing a Maryland Court of Appeals decision that threw out an accused child molester’s conviction because police questioned him nearly three years after he first requested an attorney. The Maryland court said the time span did not vitiate Michael Blaine Shatzer Sr.’s invocation of his right to counsel, and that police, years later, were barred from questioning him until an attorney was provided.