As Baltimore native Andre M. Davis watched the city negotiate a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in the waning days of the Obama administration, he was thinking about a job opportunity he had recently turned down: running the city’s Law Department.
Davis, then a senior judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had always said he would be carried out of the courthouse “feet first.” So when Catherine Pugh, then the presumptive mayor-elect, contacted him about becoming city solicitor, Davis was surprised but, after some thought, turned the job down.
The idea had taken root, however, and Davis become city solicitor Sept. 1 after more than 20 years as a federal district and appellate court judge.
The implementation of the consent decree, which was finalized before Davis joined the Law Department, is at the front of his mind. And with a monitoring team put in place earlier this month, Davis said a new phase of the process has begun.
“I’m feeling really good right now for Baltimore and for the police department and for our prospects for meaningful reform,” he said.
In a recent interview with The Daily Record earlier this month, edited below for length and clarity, Davis talked about leaving the bench, police reform and a potential return to the courtroom.
How did it come about that you were in the running for city solicitor and how did you get the job?
I was contacted on behalf of the mayor last year to test my interest and, I really mean it, it was out of the blue. …(M)y immediate reaction was, ‘No, I’m loving what I’m doing, I don’t want to leave the bench,’ and that was my answer for about a week or two. And then when I thought about it, I really do love the city and was always looking for more ways I could be of service to the city, so I decided to meet with (Pugh) … we had a good meeting, she and I, we talked about her vision for the city, her vision for her administration, how I might be helpful, and I thought about it and I decided it wasn’t right for me. I really loved what I was doing. Long story short, there came a time when I changed my mind the last time and agreed to do it and so here I am.
What led you to change your mind?
It was reflection and thinking about it and, certainly, the mayor made it clear that she would really, really welcome me to her team. If there was an event, and I don’t think there was an event, but I will tell you that the progress on the consent decree and the prospect for reform was absolutely a major driver in my decision. Somebody asked me, ‘Would you have made this decision in the absence of the effort at police reform?’ And that’s a tough question for me because I’m not sure I would.
What is the Law Department’s role in trying to achieve the goals of the consent decree?
It’s sometimes overlooked and just not known that we really are the lawyers for the police department. …We actually do advise the police department before the fact and one of the things that I hope comes out of this, that I expect will come out of this, is that we’re going to give more advice upfront, ‘ex ante’ as the lawyers say, and I fully expect that the police department and the command staff are going to work even harder than they have to adhere to our advice.
So we’re the lawyers, the law department represents two clients, Baltimore City Police Department and mayor and City Council and, like any good lawyer, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure our clients comply with a court order, because that’s what the consent decree is. It’s a court order arising out of litigation in which the United States Department of Justice came into Baltimore, conducted its investigation, and the result of that litigation is the consent decree.
When you advise your clients, what form does that take?
We actually have – I think it’s about 13 or 14 lawyers actually reside in the police department, and so you know the command staff and the commissioner all have immediate access to lawyers. I would even say 24/7.
…We try to give them the best advice we can. We’re not police, so we don’t purport to tell them how to police, but we tell them how training should take place, we tell them what the law is, what the law requires. Ultimately, what we’re aiming for is the best model of community policing in the country, a police department that uses best practices in every area of policing and community involvement.
Where do you hope we are a year from now in terms of the consent decree?
Well, I don’t know. Where we are now is the monitoring team has 90 days to put together it’s plan and we’re going to be very anxious to see that and I know that (consent decree monitor Kenneth L. Thompson) is going to get right to work and in fact there was a statement from Community Mediation that they are putting together their citizen advisory committee and so forth.
I’m not going to pre-judge anything. I’m anxious to see what plan the monitors come up with, but I’m confident that they will have very discreet goals, they’re going to have metrics in place, they’re going to have measurable outcomes on an ongoing basis and I know that the district court is going to expect results. And my job as the lawyer for the city and the police department is to make sure we achieve those results and when we don’t, be able to show without ambiguity and without any argument our continuing good faith efforts to achieve those results.
What are some other issues besides police reform that are front and center in your mind?
The mayor’s got a number of initiatives she wants to pursue that will require a lot of work on the part of the Law Department and similarly the City Council has a number of issues they’re interested in.
I had individual meetings with every member of the city council – I was very busy for the last two weeks – a couple of whom, several of whom, actually I know, most of whom I did not know. It was really great to have these individualized meetings. I got a number of requests, specific requests from a number of them that we’re working on so it’s never ending. It really is.
What kind of initiatives is the mayor consulting with you about?
I don’t want to get out in front of anything but I will tell you this: The mayor… she is very focused on vacancies in the city, and she’s not the first mayor to be concerned about that, not the first public official to be concerned about that. We all are, because we know that that contributes to reductions in the quality of life and you have, often, a senior citizen living on a block where every other house or the whole other side of the street is boarded up, vacant.
So the mayor is really focused on can we do better at clearing out some of those areas for further use and so that’s something the Law Department and the housing department are going to be working closely together on, but we’ll see where it goes. Sometimes it seems to take a long time to do something about that and we’re going to make it a priority.
Do you miss being on the bench?
Really, I don’t. I’m really engaged with all this stuff and I’m looking forward to going to court. It’s been 30-plus years but it’s like riding a bike. Well, not quite like riding a bike. To the extent my responsibilities as a manager, administrator (and) leader permit, I expect to show up in court. I told my former colleagues on the 4th Circuit be nice to me when I come down here. I don’t know when that will be. No one promised to be nice to me, but I’m sure they will. It’s a collegial court, and that doesn’t end when you leave.