Hogan sidesteps legislature to pay State Center legal fees

Bryan P. Sears//June 19, 2019

Hogan sidesteps legislature to pay State Center legal fees

By Bryan P. Sears

//June 19, 2019

The Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to approve payment of legal fees to outside attorneys in the State Center development dispute. Treasurer Nancy Kopp, left, opposed the payment, but Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted to approve the funding. (File Photo)
The Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to approve payment of legal fees to outside attorneys in the State Center development dispute. Treasurer Nancy Kopp, left, opposed the payment, but Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted to approve the funding. (File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS — The Board of Public Works Wednesday voted to pay more than $360,000 in fees to outside attorneys representing the state in an ongoing court dispute over the canceled redevelopment of State Center in Baltimore.

The 2-to-1 vote to approve payment sidesteps attempts by the General Assembly to prevent Hogan from paying the attorneys. The money for the fees comes from a small fund managed by the board that became the subject of attempts by lawmakers to tighten how the 50-year old contingency fund is used.

“Since (the legislature) deleted the money in the budget, the only money left to pay our bills is out of this contingency fund, which there is $500,000,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “That’s what the contingency is for, so we can pay our bills in a situation where the legislature does something stupid and takes away the money.”

Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted to approve using $363,449 of the board’s contingency fund to pay for legal expenses occurred between December and February. Treasurer Nancy Kopp dissented, saying the effort went against the legislature’s decision to cut money earmarked for the lawsuit from the fiscal 2020 budget.

“It’s quite clear the legislature was properly exerting its authority in its efforts to carry out its responsibilities,” said Kopp. “I don’t think this board should be attempting to overturn that action by the legislature.”

The state has been engaged in a legal battle with State Center LLC for nearly three years.

The payment approved by the board comes from a $500,000 contingency fund created in 1968.  In the past the fund has been used to pay for official portraits, emergency storm cleanup, evacuating Maryland students stranded abroad, and legal fees.

On Wednesday the board voted 2-1 against approving a payment of more than $86,000 from the same fund. The money would have been used to reimburse Howard County District Judge Mary C. Reese for expenses incurred as she defended herself before the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

Hogan Wednesday described State Center LLC as “a failed developer that has not done anything with the site for 14 years.”

State Center was expected to lead a $1.5 billion effort to redevelop the property into a mix of state government offices, retail and residential. But leases on the property for the state were considered exorbitant by Hogan, who ran a development company before becoming governor.

Hogan said cuts made by the legislature potentially puts taxpayers on the hook for “$100 million in losses.”

“It’s a total lack of regard for fiscal responsibility and it’s interference and they don’t have have the power to do it,” said the governor.

Hogan reminded Kopp that it was a unanimous vote of the three-member board in 2016 that canceled the project. The state then filed suit against the developer. In response, State Center LLC filed a countersuit.

“It was, and I regret that to this day,” said Kopp, who was on the board at the time.

 

 

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