Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway has moved one step closer toward filing a class action to force the city to collect millions of dollars in delinquent water bills from businesses and other large customers, at the same time that homeowners are at risk of losing their homes because of as little as $35 in unpaid bills.
Conaway has filed a notice of claims with City Solicitor George A. Nilson. He named Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the City Council of Baltimore as respondents, as well as unnamed agents, contractors, servants, employees, officials and officers of the city.
“We are trying to get the city to collect money from large institutions instead of picking on small people,” Conaway said. “We want to make them whole. This is a lawsuit to make elected officials do their job and collect what is owed.
In the notice, Conaway asserted claims that include but are not limited to negligence, failure to perform official duties, denial of equal protection under the law and denial of due process.
Conaway said he expects a lawsuit to be filed within the next two weeks. In his notice, however, he said that if the mayor and the other respondents accept liability he is willing to enter into good-faith negotiations to arrive at an appropriate settlement of his claims.
Conaway, however, said he did not think a settlement was likely.
Conaway is represented by former City Solicitor Neal M. Janey. He said Janey is not representing him on a pro bono basis.
Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt is receiving free legal services from Peter G. Angelos’ law firm in her lawsuit alleging that the mayor’s administration failed to adhere to competitive bidding practices in its attempts to put in a new phone system.
Janey did not return requests for comment.
Nilson said the issue of delinquent water bills was a serious one, but he said he was not sure that the clerk’s lawsuit would lead to a solution.
“Mr. Conaway is a serial litigator, as is Mr. Janey,” Nilson said. “[Conaway] likes the public attention that filing these lawsuits brings.”
Conaway announced his intention to file the class action in late August, citing reports that organizations such as The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and RG Steel, the parent company of Sparrows Point steelyard, had delinquent accounts.
At the time, Conaway requested from Harry E. Black, director of the Baltimore Department of Finance, the names and addresses of people who were more than 90 days behind on their water bill, saying that he needed people “who have been adversely affected as opposed to those that have been allowed to delay payments.”
He said yesterday that roughly two months later he is still seeking information from Black’s office on people “who have been foreclosed on in the last two years for water bills.”