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Top 5: ‘I was there to reclaim our badge’

It was an eventful week in the city of Baltimore and in the state of Maryland, as city police announced charges against officers allegedly involved in an extortion scheme, and the same-sex marriage bill moved its way through the state Senate. Those stories and more in this weeks top  staff law stories:

1. 17 Baltimore officers charged in extortion scheme – by Danny Jacobs

The 14 Baltimore City police officers thought they were called to the police academy Wednesday morning for an equipment inspection. Instead, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III personally took their badges before they were arrested for allegedly conspiring to commit extortion with a Rosedale towing company.

“I was there to reclaim our badge,” Bealefeld said Wednesday afternoon.

In all, seventeen officers and the two brothers who own Majestic Auto Repair Shop LLC were charged as a result of a joint investigation between Baltimore police and federal agents. The officers are alleged to have arranged for Majestic to tow vehicles from accident scenes since January 2009 even though the company had no contract to tow for the city, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Majestic paid the officers approximately $300 per referral, with one officer taking in more than $14,000 over the course of nine months, prosecutors alleged.

2. Zuckerman Spaeder convinces Murphy & Shaffer to join its fold – by Danielle Ulman and Danny Jacobs

Since the day William J. Murphy opened his litigation practice in 1984, he estimates he’d fielded more than 25 overtures to fold his firm into another one. None of them interested him.

None, that is, until Martin S. Himeles Jr. came knocking — for the second time.

The two sat down over lunch about five years ago to discuss the possibility of Murphy & Shaffer LLC joining up with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, where Himeles is the managing partner of the Baltimore office.

3. Baltimore judge dismisses fired public defender’s lawsuit – by Danny Jacobs and Brendan Kearney

A Baltimore judge has dismissed former State Public Defender Nancy S. Forster’s $1 million wrongful termination lawsuit.

Judge Pamela J. White said Forster’s lawsuit reflects “deep disagreement” between Forster and the three-member board of trustees as to how best perform the agency’s work, a dispute that ultimately led to Forster’s controversial removal in August 2009. But that did not amount to a violation of a “clear mandate of public policy,” the standard for a wrongful termination cause of action, White ruled Thursday.

4. Public Defender audit finds flaws – by Brendan Kearney

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender must fine-tune its procedures for determining who is eligible for its services and improve its bookkeeping and fee collection practices, according to a legislative audit published Tuesday.

The audit, which covered mid-2007 through mid-2010, also faulted the indigent legal defense agency for contracting out network and database management instead of handling it in-house and for paying one employee for 168 days after the person left — to the tune of $20,560.

5. Md. Senate gives preliminary approval to same-sex marriage bill – by Steve Lash

Even as the state Senate resumes debating same-sex marriage after its preliminary approval of a bill on Wednesday, the measure’s opponents are gearing up for a vote in a wider forum.

Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr. said enactment of Senate Bill 116 would spur a referendum drive that will put the issue on the ballot in November 2012.

“The voters ought to have the final say on this and they will, one way or another,” said Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, a House Judiciary Committee member. “When the voting public is given the final say, marriage remains between a man and a woman.”