Baltimore city lawyer to oversight board: No using private attorney to sue for police files

The lawsuit stems from a dispute over a confidentiality agreement the board refused to sign, leading police to stop sharing internal affairs files with them

By Ian Duncan
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis has a clear message for a police oversight board: One part of the city government can’t hire its own lawyer to sue another part of it.

Davis set out his position in a letter dated Tuesday to a private attorney for the Civilian Review Board, the day after the board filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department for access to disciplinary records.

“I am the sole authority by which the legal business of the mayor and City Council of Baltimore is conducted,” Davis wrote. “This includes the legal business of city agencies, boards, commissions and departments, whether they are created by ordinance, public local law, or otherwise.

“No exception exists for the Civilian Review Board.”

Davis gave the board’s attorney, Robin Cockey, until Friday to withdraw his name from the suit, saying that if he didn’t, Davis would be forced to protect the city’s interests.

“Such action might include the filing of a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland against you and your firm,” Davis wrote.

Cockey said Tuesday that he had received Davis’ letter and questioned Davis’ interpretation of the Civilian Review Board’s status.

Cockey said it would be up to his clients in the lawsuit, who also include 15 members of the public with complaints against police officers, to decide what to do next.

However, he and Davis held out hope that mutual discussions might help resolve the matter.

Of the board members, Cockey said: “I’m confident that they will direct me to confer with the city solicitor and follow a process that might lead to a resolution of the disagreement. I’m confident that I am proceeding ethically. I’m confident that my clients wish to resolve this in the public interest.”

The board, whose members were appointed by Mayor Catherine Pugh, is empowered to investigate police misconduct and make disciplinary recommendations to the police commissioner.

The lawsuit stems from a dispute between the board’s eight members and Davis over a confidentiality agreement he wants them to sign. The board members refused, so the police department stopped sharing internal affairs files with them.

Without those files, the board says, it can’t do its job. The board has issued subpoenas to the police department and filed the suit Monday asking a Baltimore Circuit Court judge to order the department to comply.

Bridal Pearson, the board’s chairman, couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment.

Davis wrote that if Cockey’s aim in getting involved in “this intramural difference of opinion” between the law department and the review board is to help the two sides resolve the dispute “then I certainly welcome you to the fray.”

“It might be useful to have someone such as yourself, someone of sound judgment from outside the city who has no desire to foment pointless public outrage over a statutory regime that all agree needs revision, to serve as a truth-teller who can smooth out the edges of different points of view and bring closure to this ongoing debate,” Davis wrote.

Cockey, whose office is in Salisbury, said the board is not simply out to score a court victory.

“I will respond in a cordial, positive fashion,” he said. “My goal is to facilitate a positive effective outcome, not simply to wind up with bragging rights.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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