Between 2011 and mid-2012 — the most recent data available — founding partner John M. Hall brought in twice as much money from workers' compensation claims as any other lawyer in the state, according to the Comp Pinkbook, an analysis of workers' compensation records by nonpracticing lawyer Byron B. Warnken.
Over 18 months, Hall made more than $5 million representing workers, mainly police and firefighters in Prince George's County, the Comp Pinkbook says. Baltimore lawyer Mitchel Mark Gordon took in $2.6 million, largely by representing city police officers, and fellow Baltimore attorney Bruce E. Ingerman made $2.1 million, largely by representing state workers.
Warnken, founder of 27Legal LLC, created the Comp Pinkbook by using a computer program to take public data from the state commission's database.
In interviews, Hall and Gordon acknowledged the dollar figures for their firms generally appeared correct; Ingerman did not return calls for comment. Warnken has said the numbers are "100 percent accurate."
Hall described himself as "just a country lawyer," and cited Barnes' efforts in the House as key to his practice. Barnes, he said, had done a lot of "good work" on the issue.
"I'm from a blue-collar family," Hall said. "I'm a first-generation lawyer. Work hard and it pays off."
Workers' compensation lawyers often do not get a share of awards for lost wages. If the payments stretch on past 75 weeks, the lawyer's cut generally shrinks to 15 percent under state law. If the payments continue after 195 weeks, the maximum the lawyer usually receives is 10 percent.
Workers' compensation attorneys emphasize that they often make less from their cases than those who sue businesses or governments, while acknowledging that workers' compensation cases usually move through the system more quickly.
Hall's law firm handled more workers' compensation awards from the beginning of 2011 through the middle of 2012 than any other attorney in the state, according to Warnken's analysis. In total, Hall handled 1,753 awards, representing more than $30 million dollars in payouts to injured workers. In one case, the firm won a $350,000 disability award for a worker's back injury.
Warnken said he created the project to "make it easier for victims of injury to find injury lawyers in Maryland" since "very little transparency exists about lawyer experience and performance." He believes his research helps potential clients identify the most effective workers' compensation attorneys in the state.
State lawmakers are required to file mandatory financial disclosure statements, as well as discretionary public "disclaimers of interest" concerning legislative matters that constitute conflicts of interest.
A review of Barnes' filings with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics show that when he joined the legislature in 2007 he initially listed potential conflicts of interest as involving "torts, criminal defense, estates, guardianships, and bankruptcy." Later, he added the phrase "and workers comp."
Barnes said he amended the form in 2011 after joining Hall's law firm. He said his colleagues are aware of his legal work.
"I don't think it's any big mystery," he said. "They all know."
Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.
Lawyers who handled highest total payouts from state Workers Compensation Commission
•John M. Hall, Bowie: $5.2 million
•Mitchel M. Gordon, Baltimore: $2.5 million
•Bruce E. Ingerman, Baltimore: $2.1 million
•Alfredo J. Antezana, Gaithersburg: $1.8 million
•Benjamin T. Boscolo, Greenbelt: $1.7 million
Source: The Comp Pinkbook. Data cover 18 months between 2011 and 2012.