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Lawyers donate largely to Vignarajah, Scott in mayoral race, report says

Thiruvendran “Thiru” Vignarajah (File)

Thiru Vignarajah (The Daily Record/File photo)

Three months ahead of Baltimore’s April 28 mayoral primary election, many local lawyers have donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates in what looks to be a heated race to replace former Mayor Catherine Pugh, with some attorneys giving the maximum amount of $6,000.

Candidate Thiru Vignarajah, a litigation partner at DLA Piper, has received the most money from lawyers, with attorneys donating $112,400 to his campaign, according to an annual campaign finance report by the Maryland State Board of Elections. Vignarajah’s current campaign balance is just over $840,600, according to the report, released Jan. 15.

Vignarajah has received significant support from DLA Piper, with 18 attorneys from the law firm donating a total of $20,000 to Vignarajah’s campaign, according to the campaign finance report.

Baltimore Council President Brandon Scott talks to The Associated Press about the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a day after the congressman died Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, in Baltimore. “We grew up idolizing him. Before there was Barack Obama, here, we had Elijah Cummings,” Scott said. (APPhoto/Julio Cortez)

Brandon Scott (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Charles P. Scheeler, a retired partner with DLA Piper and a supporter of Vignarajah, said he’s impressed by Vignarajah’s integrity, intelligence and passion for Baltimore.

“He wants the children of Baltimore to have that same kind of opportunity he did after coming to the U.S. from Sri Lanka with his parents,” Scheeler said.

Vignarajah, who arrived in Baltimore as a small child, has served as chief of major investigations in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and as deputy attorney general for the state of Maryland.

Scheeler defended Vignarajah after police body camera footage was released showing Vignarajah arguing with a police officer after a September traffic stop in east Baltimore, in which it was found that Vignarajah’s license plates were suspended. Scheeler said the candidate was “more polite than I would’ve been.”

“Thiru’s integrity is impeccable, and nothing about this story changes that,” Scheeler said of the traffic stop.

Scheeler has donated the maximum amount of $6,000 to Vignarajah’s campaign. So has Sherri O’Donnell, a trial attorney for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore, according to the campaign finance report. O’Donnell declined to comment.

While the campaign finance report shows lawyers donating more to Vignarajah than to other mayoral candidates, Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott has also received contributions from attorneys for his mayoral run.

Of Scott’s $458,362 in contributions since January 2019, $42,000 came from lawyers, according to the campaign finance report. In particular, Scott has received considerable support from Venable LLP and James L. Shea, chairman emeritus at the firm. Fourteen Venable lawyers have contributed $18,275 to Scott’s campaign, according to the report.

Shea ran for governor in 2018 and chose Scott as his running mate.

It’s not unusual for lawyers at big-name firms to contribute to local and state campaigns, Shea said.

While saying it was unlikely an entire firm would contribute to one mayoral candidate, Shea said Venable — which is based in Washington but was founded in Baltimore — encourages its attorneys to be engaged in their community and to help shape its future.

“It’s up to individual lawyers and it’s their obligation to the community to support and research candidates for important positions,” Shea said. “That’s always been the role of lawyers, certainly in Baltimore. At least at Venable, we like lawyers to do that. To be directly engaged in who’s leading the city, I think that’s important.”

Shea has donated the maximum amount of $6,000 to Scott’s campaign. Ivan Bates, from Bates & Garcia, P.A. in Baltimore, and James Stone, from Towson-based Bowie & Jensen LLC, also have donated $6,000 each to Scott’s campaign.

Shea said he thinks that Scott is more knowledgeable about Baltimore than the other candidates and that his relative youth — Scott is 35 — makes him a good fit.

“He embodies the new, younger leadership the city so desperately needs,” Shea said. “I have great hope in this younger generation and what they can do.”

Henry Hopkins, a retired lawyer previously with T. Rowe Price Group Inc., said he supports Mary Miller, a former T. Rowe Price executive and U.S. Treasury official. He said he has donated $1,000 to Miller’s campaign.

Hopkins said not only lawyers but all voters in the city have a responsibility to pick the best mayor for Baltimore’s future.

“I think everybody … needs to get involved,” Hopkins said. “The citizens of Baltimore have to realize that things haven’t been working and we need to get better.”

Hopkins said he now spends much of his time in Florida but is still active in Baltimore groups, including the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy.

According to the state’s campaign finance report, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young — who has the largest current campaign balance, with slightly under $1 million — has received contributions from only seven attorneys.

One of those attorneys is David Irwin, a Towson-based lawyer who is of counsel with Kramon & Graham P.A. Irwin said that he has not contributed to any other mayoral campaign and that he decided to support Young after meeting him at a dinner event recently.

“It’s the city I grew up in, and (Young) seems to be a long-time dedicated servant,” said Irwin, who has donated $4,000 to Young’s campaign, according to the campaign finance report. “I’m not very political, but I just want to help out and root for Baltimore city.”

 


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