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Judge delays hearing until attorney for city is present

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge noticed someone was missing from his courtroom Wednesday when attorneys for a teenager picked up and allegedly abandoned by police officers argued that the city had reneged on its agreement to pay the boy’s family $150,000 in a settlement.

None of the lawyers present was representing the city, because the plaintiff’s attorneys had not named the mayor, City Council or other Baltimore officials in their request for a motions hearing.

“We don’t have everyone we need to adjudicate the matter,” Judge W. Michel Pierson said.

“The city is really the entity in interest here,” he added. “The city has to be in front of us.”

Pierson’s observation brought a halt to the 45-minute hearing, at which attorneys for Michael B. Johnson Jr. were urging Pierson to compel the city to place the settlement before the Board of Estimates for approval or rejection. A. Dwight Pettit and Allan B. Rabineau, Johnson’s attorneys, alleged the city has improperly withheld the agreement from the board.

“We were under the firm belief that this matter was submitted” to the board, said Rabineau, who like Pettit, is a Baltimore solo practitioner.

In their “motion to enforce the settlement agreement,” Pettit and Rabineau named the three police officers as defendants because they were parties to the accord.

Michael L. Marshall, an attorney for officer Tyrone Francis, was at the hearing. Marshall is with Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner PA in Baltimore.

But Troy A. Priest, the lawyer for officers Milton G. Smith III and Greg Hellen, was not in court. Priest, of Wong Fleming LLP in Baltimore, told Pierson’s clerk that he had never received notice of the hearing, the judge said.

A potential delay was averted when Marshall called Priest and received his permission to speak on the officers’ behalf.

But Pierson said the presence of an attorney for the officers was not critical to the resolution of the motion.

The city — not the officers — has the final say on whether the settlement is approved as well as the obligation to pay any agreed upon amount, the judge said.

Pierson concluded the hearing by saying he would issue an order to the city, stating that an attorney’s presence before the court is necessary in light of the allegation that the city should have but has not brought the settlement agreement to the Board of Estimates. He scheduled that hearing for 11 a.m. July 13.

Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson, whom Pierson identified as the city’s likely representative, did not return a telephone message seeking comment late Wednesday afternoon.

The $150,000 settlement would resolve the lawsuit Johnson’s family brought against Francis, Smith and Hellen for picking up the boy, as well as another West Baltimore teenager, on May 4, 2009, and allegedly abandoning Johnson near Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County and the other youngster, who is not a party to the suit, in East Baltimore.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury last year found Francis and Smith guilty of misconduct in office for the incident, a misdemeanor. In a separate bench trial, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Timothy J. Doory found Hellen not criminally responsible.

All three officers were acquitted of more serious charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault.

Francis and Smith received 18-month suspended jail terms and probation.