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Letter to the Editor: Wrong reason but right decision on outside counsel for Baltimore police investigation

The Editorial Advisory Board’s endorsing of the decision by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Solicitor George Nilson to hire the Washington law firm WilmerHale to represent the city during the investigation by the Department of Justice into the Baltimore Police Department was thoughtful and balanced. [“A bitter but necessary pill for Baltimore to swallow,”Jan. 29] There is, however, an inaccuracy in the editorial that has a bearing on the cost of what the editorial correctly calls a “bitter pill” for the city.

The editorial stated that the City of Chicago hired WilmerHale “for the same purpose.” Not quite. As described by Mr. Nilson, he hired WilmerHale not only for its expert advice but also “to assemble and review the documents and to accompany employees during interviews.” Chicago Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton made it clear that he was not hiring WilmerHale for that purpose, and will use local outside counsel to fulfill requests for documents and data and arrange interviews with witnesses. “I’m not going to pay WilmerHale rates to do anything that I can have one of our local firms do at our regular $295 per hour or less,” he said, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

I retired as Anne Arundel County Attorney in 2014 after 31 years in the Anne Arundel County Office of Law. Therefore, I appreciated the position taken in the editorial that a decision by the city solicitor on how to meet the city’s need for legal services should be given substantial deference. I must say, however, that I never saw it as inappropriate for elected officials to question whether I considered less expensive means of obtaining those services.

In any event, I believe that it is too late for the city to change course, and any opportunity for the city to save some money on legal fees has been lost. Nothing should be done that delays the completion of the investigation and initiation of the reforms of the Baltimore Police Department.

I strongly concur with the statement in the editorial that reforms will require elected officials to “dismantle the police union’s grip on city government,” but I am pessimistic that elected officials will do anything about the power of the police union until the Justice Department issues its findings.  The sooner the investigation is concluded and findings issued the better.

David A. Plymyer