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Speaking invite to prosecutor Leo Wise stirs turmoil in Baltimore law clubs

Madeleine O'Neill//May 16, 2023

A speaking invitation to Assistant U.S Attorney Leo Wise, at right, sparked controversy in Baltimore's law clubs. (AP Photo/David McFadden)

Speaking invite to prosecutor Leo Wise stirs turmoil in Baltimore law clubs

By Madeleine O'Neill

//May 16, 2023

The email went out on Wednesday evening: Leo Wise, an assistant U.S. attorney known for major corruption prosecutions, would be the guest speaker at a June 1 memorial dinner for Baltimore’s law clubs.

By the next morning, the dinner was scrapped and Charles Blomquist, a Baltimore circuit judge who had emailed his club’s members about the talk, sent a contrite follow-up to the group, the Serjeants’ Inn.

Emails obtained by The Daily Record show that at least two members of the group objected because Wise had prosecuted Joshua Treem, a Baltimore defense lawyer who was ultimately acquitted on obstruction of justice charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In an email to Serjeants’ Inn members on Thursday, Blomquist said the memorial dinner was canceled and the invitation to Wise had been rescinded, though Wise disputes that version of events and another law club’s leader said the decision to cancel was based on concerns about the venue.

“This decision was not an easy one to make,” Blomquist wrote to club members. “It was never intended to offend any of our members and colleagues, but rather to encourage challenging discussion and debate, while also celebrating our good fortunate to be involved in the justice system. At no point did I intend to create a schism within our ranks.”

Blomquist did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Wise told The Daily Record he was invited to speak at the dinner by the Barristers Club, not the Serjeants’ Inn, and that he was told the dinner was canceled because of a problem with the venue.

“I find it bizarre that somebody would object to the fact that I did my job,” Wise said.

Barristers Club President Kathy Howard said in an email that “various club members had concerns about the venue,” a private historic club called L’Hirondelle.

“Without an alternative venue that we could secure within our time frame for such a large event, we decided to cancel the dinner,” Howard said. She said the Barristers Club invited Wise to speak at what would have been the first joint law club dinner since the pandemic.

She declined to comment on the emails from members of the Serjeants’ Inn.

The dust-up over Wise’s invite highlights the simmering tension that has lingered in the Baltimore legal community since Treem’s prosecution, which was unpopular among the criminal defense bar.

The indictment against Treem came in 2020, after federal investigators secretly recorded him during an interview with a government witness who had offered to provide exculpatory information about Treem’s client, Kenneth Ravenell, another Baltimore defense lawyer who was facing criminal charges.

Prosecutors alleged that during the interview, Treem tried to take the witness “off the board” by locking him into a false story that would help Ravenell and make the witness less useful as a government cooperator. Treem and his defenders said he was doing the basic work of a defense attorney by testing the prosecution’s case.

Treem faced trial alongside Ravenell in late 2021. Treem was acquitted of all charges; Ravenell was convicted of money laundering.

Treem’s prosecution strained the relationship between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the defense bar.

The Daily Record reported last year that the new U.S. attorney, Erek L. Barron, introduced a policy adding safeguards before federal prosecutors can surreptitiously monitor lawyers’ communications.

Treem declined to comment for this story. He is a member of the Serjeants’ Inn, an exclusive club formed in the 1960s whose current members include high-profile lawyers and judges.

The emails sent to Serjeants’ Inn members went to Barron, who is Wise’s current boss, and Rod Rosenstein, the former U.S. deputy attorney general and U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland who hired Wise.

The two club members who objected to Wise are well-known Treem allies: Paula Junghans, a retired partner at Zuckerman Spaeder who is in a relationship with Treem, and Kobie Flowers, a partner at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, the firm where Treem worked until his recent retirement.

“I was both astonished and appalled to receive this announcement,” Junghans wrote to Blomquist and the rest of the club members on Wednesday evening.

“Surely you must be aware that Leo Wise was responsible for the recent unjustified and unsuccessful prosecution of Serjeants Inn member Joshua Treem. It is plainly an insult to Josh for Serjeants Inn to sponsor this event.”

Flowers agreed moments later, asking that the invitation be rescinded. Flowers also said he objected to the planned venue for the dinner, L’Hirondelle Club, because of its “past history of discrimination against people of color and Jews.”

Blomquist’s follow-up email canceling the dinner arrived in members’ inboxes the next morning.

Junghans and Flowers declined to comment for this story.

Not everyone agreed with Wise’s opponents. Jim Astrachan, a partner at Goodell DeVries and former “master serjeant” with the Serjeants’ Inn, said Wise’s speech likely would have been informative even if not everyone agreed with his past actions.

“While I can understand the reluctance of some people who were offended by what they perceived to be his actions, I don’t know why lawyers would shy away from controversy and educating themselves,” Astrachan said. (Astrachan also chairs The Daily Record’s editorial advisory board.)

Wise is often in the spotlight. He is prosecuting Marilyn Mosby, the former Baltimore state’s attorney, on charges that she lied about suffering a coronavirus-related financial setback in order to withdraw money from her city retirement account. She is also accused of making a series of false statements when she applied for mortgages on two Florida vacation homes.

The case has been a magnet for controversy. Mosby’s original defense lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, repeatedly claimed that the charges against Mosby were the result of personal and racial animus.

Those claims were rejected by the judge handling the case, and Bolden withdrew as Mosby’s lawyer after the judge rebuked him for making similar allegations when he spoke to the press outside the federal courthouse in September.

The Baltimore Sun reported in March that Wise had been demoted from his position as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Public Corruption and Fraud Unit and temporarily pulled off the Mosby prosecution, though he was quickly reinstated to the case.

Wise is also known for prosecuting former Mayor Catherine Pugh and members of the Baltimore Police Department’s infamous Gun Trace Task Force, who robbed suspects and violated the civil rights of city residents for years.

Wise is currently promoting a book about the GTTF cases, called “Who Speaks for You? The Inside Story of the Prosecutor Who Took Down Baltimore’s Most Crooked Cops.” He was set to speak about the book at the law club dinner.


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