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City Council can hire its own lawyer

Mosby defeats write-ins for state’s attorney post with 94 percent of vote

The Baltimore City Council will be getting its own counsel and the city’s counsel is OK with that.

“I still think it’s not necessary,” City Solicitor George A. Nilson said Wednesday, “but voters are a significantly higher authority than I am.”

Nearly two-thirds of the city’s voters Tuesday approved a General Election ballot question to create the legal counsel position. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has wanted a lawyer for the council for some time but only introduced a bill in June after Nilson declared unconstitutional a mandatory local-hiring law.

The city solicitor is appointed by the mayor; the Law Department represents and advises the city government.

“Voters recognized that the council, as an independent legislative body, needs to have access to an independent counsel,” said Lester Davis, Young’s spokesman, Wednesday morning.

How and when the council’s counsel will be selected has not yet been determined, Davis added, saying a search firm might be called on for assistance.

The proposed city charter amendment came to voters after a bill was approved by the council and signed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Rawlings-Blake told reporters Wednesday she agreed with Nilson that the position was not necessary, but had expected the ballot question would pass.

“Just because I didn’t think it was a good idea … generally speaking, more times than not, there’s a high probability if a question gets on the ballot it’s successful with few exceptions,” the mayor said.

Nilson said he worked with Young to make the bill “more acceptable.” For example, the counsel’s duties were amended so that he or she cannot litigate on behalf of the City Council; that job remains with the Law Department.

The counsel’s salary also cannot exceed that of the chair of the Law Department’s Legal Advice and Opinions Practice Group, which Nilson estimated was between $100,000 and $150,000.

“It no longer is a proposal that allows the council to create its own legal bureaucracy,” Nilson said.

Nilson also asked Young to consider having the council lawyer’s office within the Law Department to “encourage a relationship” between the two.

In other city election news, Marilyn J. Mosby will become the next Baltimore City State’s Attorney after cruising to victory Tuesday.

Mosby won nearly 94 percent of the votes cast in the General Election, with the remaining 6 percent going to write-in candidates. Among her challengers was criminal defense attorney Russell A. Neverdon Sr., an independent who was forced to run as a write-in candidate after the Board of Elections found his petition to appear on the ballot had too many invalid signatures. A judge upheld the board’s ruling in September.

No Republican ran in either the primary or general elections. Totals for the individual write-in candidates were not immediately available.

Mosby did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. In a message sent through social media, she thanked her supporters and said she was “humbled and honored” to be the city’s next top prosecutor.

“My vow to pursue justice for the citizens of Baltimore is stronger now more than ever, and I look forward to working with you to make Baltimore the city we know it has all of the potential to be,” she wrote.

Mosby defeated current State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein in June’s primary election. She told The Daily Record in May that the “traditional approach to crime fighting in Baltimore has failed” and that one of her first priorities would be join forces with the Baltimore Police Department “to effectively manage and target the violent repeat offender list.” She also vowed to improve the office’s relationship with the community, saying Bernstein had created a “culture of mistrust.”

Bernstein was unavailable for comment Wednesday, according to his spokesman, Tony Savage.

Daily Record reporter Adam Bednar contributed to this report. 

About Danny Jacobs

Danny Jacobs is the legal editor at The Daily Record. He previously covered trial courts at the state and local levels and served as web editor.