Two weeks after The Brew reported that Mayor Brandon Scott’s choice for city solicitor appeared to fall short of a legal requirement for the job under the City Charter, the mayor has tacitly acknowledged the problem.
The mayor has opted to make Ebony M. Thompson acting city solicitor, the specific solution offered by this publication.
News of the title tweak was tucked away in the mayor’s biweekly newsletter yesterday.
Does this mean, The Brew asked today, that the administration recognizes that her appointment, before she had served 10 years as a member of the Maryland Bar, created a legal problem?
No, the appointment would have created an appearance problem – “a distraction,” according to Thompson.
“We strongly believe that my experience both during and prior to my time as a member of the Bar meets the Charter’s requirements,” she wrote today, responding on behalf of the mayor.
Using the “acting” title allows the administration to avoid “an academic fight that would distract from the mayor’s agenda without changing my authority as the city’s legal advisor and head of the Law Department,” she said.
Thompson is set to take over the law office upon City Solicitor Jim Shea’s retirement, which is effective on January 13, 2023.
Thompson said she requested the arrangement, and the mayor agreed. Thompson will remain “acting city solicitor effective January 14, 2023 until December 2023,” according to mayoral spokeswoman Monica Lewis.
“A simple matter”
The issue made for a rocky start for Thompson, who recently served as Scott’s acting chief of staff following the departure of Michael Huber.
The former Venable litigator was tapped by Shea, longtime chairman of the firm, last February with the understanding that she would succeed him at City Hall.
Asked to explain how her appointment conformed with the Charter requirement, the administration had cited her work while a law student.
Before her admission to the Bar on December 19, 2013, she worked as “a summer associate and law clerk with Venable LLP and had tenures with Judge George Russell III, Peter Angelos Law and with the Homeless Persons Representation Project,” Scott’s office said.
Asked why she and Shea continue to maintain that her appointment in January would have been legal, Thompson called it “a simple matter of statutory interpretation.”
Explaining her reasoning, Thompson cited the Charter requirement that the solicitor “shall be a member of the Maryland Bar, who has practiced the profession of law for not less than 10 years.”
“Our belief then, and now, is that the sentence is structured to impose two separate requirements, Maryland Bar membership and having 10 years experience of ‘practicing the profession of law,’” she said.
“We interpret ‘practicing the profession of law’ to encompass my more than one year of relevant legal experience that preceded my nine years as a member of the Bar,” she continued.
Asked her priorities when she becomes acting solicitor, Thompson enumerated four of them:
• “Answering Mayor Scott’s call to tackle vacant housing by expanding on my collaborative creation with Councilwoman Ramos, Chief Judge Audrey Carrion and the Department of Housing and Community Development to establish a new track for Baltimore City In Rem Tax Foreclosures that reduces a traditional 2-3 years tax foreclosure process to as little as four months.
• “Continuing my introduction of blockchain technology to the city for recordation of land titles, lien sheets, land valuation, permit tracking and the use of smart contracts to simplify the process for purchasing vacant properties and incentivizing investment in Baltimore City.
• “Fully implementing the Squeegee Collaborative Working Action Plan that moves beyond the cursory work of simply removing the problem from visibility in a geographic area traditionally linked to prosperity, but providing a comprehensive approach that preserves public safety and the rights of the workers. This includes a vital enforcement strategy for both squeegee workers and motorists that meets the constitutionally required balancing test.
• “Supporting other legislative initiatives like adopting a resolution that protects the rights of pregnant persons by de-prioritizing the use of city resources to help prosecute individuals who seek abortion care.”