Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has ordered the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement separated from the Department of Law and placed under his direct control.
Calling the previous arrangement a conflict of interest, Young and state Sen. Jill Carter, the office’s former director, said they’d opposed former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s decision to incorporate the agency into the city’s law department. Structuring the office under the department run by City Solicitor Andre Davis, they said, creates a conflict of interest.
“It is imperative that (boards and commissions under the Office of Civil Rights) be able to secure independent legal counsel when it is warranted,” said Carter, who said her presence does not indicate a return to that department. “Let me say also that during my tenure it’s not a secret that there were instances of conflict of interest with the Baltimore Police Department, and the civilian review board, and the inherent conflict of interest of the (city) solicitor representing both entities. Those shenanigans were a disservice to the victims of police abuse as well as staff and board. ”
Carter resigned her position as director of the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement roughly a year ago after Davis ruled state ethics laws prohibited her from holding the position while serving as a state senator. Carter previously made it clear she did not agree with Davis’ interpretation of the law. Last fall Pugh, at Davis’ behest, selected former Georgetown University administrator Darnell Ingram to fill the role left vacant by the state senator.
Last year members of the Civilian Review Board, a police oversight board reviewing misconduct allegations that receives support from the Office of Civil Rights, filed a lawsuit seeking access to police disciplinary records, which Davis opposed.
After board members refused to sign confidentiality agreements, police stopped sending complaint cases to the board, which in turn filed subpoenas for the records.
Last November, the board again started receiving the complaints without signing the confidentiality agreement. In a letter to the Baltimore City Council, Davis wrote that city lawyers might not be able to defend board members who didn’t sign the confidentiality agreements if they were subsequently sued for unauthorized disclosures.
Bridal Pearson, chairman of the Civilian Review Board, said board members and the American Civil Liberties Union were “outraged” by the previous arrangement. Young’s decision to make the office independent again, he said, corrects the error.
“We greatly support righting this wrong that was done to basically the community members who face constant police misconduct. We are that voice, and I would say this is what advocacy looks like,” Pearson said.
Young, who officially took over as mayor after Pugh resigned in early May, said he’s wanted to make the office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement independent of the law department since he was council president.
“This decision was always in the back of my mind that it was going to be separate, and when I became mayor it was one of the first things I wanted to do,” Young said.
The Civilian Review Board eventually dropped its lawsuit, but Davis filed an ethics complaint in December against the attorney retained by the review board. The Maryland Office of Bar Counsel declined to issue sanctions.
The mayor on Tuesday said he did not receive a response from Davis after he was informed of the decision to remove the Office of Civil Rights from the law department.
“The response should’ve been, ‘Mr. Mayor I support your move,” Young said.
After the news conference Young’s staff said Chief of Staff Kim Morton, and not the mayor, informed Davis about the decision. As a result Young did not receive a direct response from Davis.
The city solicitor was well aware of Young’s desire to make the change, and the move was not unexpected, according to staff, or opposed by Davis, a former judge for the fourth circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals who was hired by Pugh.
Deputy City Solicitor Dana P. Moore said the law department was on board with Young’s decision. Moore said she personally conveyed to the mayor’s staff the department’s wholehearted support, and said her department looks forward to continuing to provide legal support to the office.
“We knew this was coming,” Moore said.