State Sen. James Brochin suggested Wednesday that a surcharge could be used to help the Housing Authority of Baltimore City pay nearly $12 million in court-ordered judgments that it owes former public housing tenants who suffered lead-paint poisoning years ago as children.

Brochin, a Towson Democrat, made the comments the same day he wrote a scathing letter to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake decrying the authority's refusal to pay the judgments because of a lack of funds. He urged the mayor and Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano to rethink their position.


"I implore you to do the right thing, and pay off the few cases you have agreed to settle and negotiate a fair settlement with the rest of these families," Brochin wrote. "Anything short of this shows the citizens of Baltimore that you may care about the many, but in the process, you're simply willing to discard the few."

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said in an email that the mayor's office had not seen the letter "that was apparently distributed to the press." He added, "When it arrives directly from Senator Brochin we will review it and respond to Senator Brochin."

Brochin's office later provided The Sun with emails contradicting O'Doherty. More than an hour before O'Doherty stated that the mayor's office hadn't gotten the letter, Rawlings-Blake's executive assistant, Elizabeth Koontz, sent a Brochin aide confirmation that the mayor's office had indeed received an electronic copy of the letter. "Got it. thanks," Koontz wrote.

Rawlings-Blake, whose father grew up in public housing, said in an interview last month that she was "committed to resolving the matter in a comprehensive way that doesn't reduce HABC's capacity to serve the tens and thousands of families just like my grandparents that are in need today."

She gave no details or a timetable, however. "I'm convinced this is just another mess that neither the commissioner nor I created that we're called upon to fix," she said. "I'm determined to get it done."

Brochin's anger at the housing authority's inaction echoes the critical comments of some fellow legislators in the General Assembly and on the City Council. But he also suggested a legislative response in Annapolis, such as a temporary $3 surcharge on eviction notices.

"There are ways to do this, and it gets done all the time in Annapolis," he said. "If it's for the right cause, it's going to be considered."

But he said the housing authority first should pay the six-figure consent judgments it reached with several plaintiffs. He said the agency should also get serious about paying others awarded lead-paint claims by juries. In all, eight plaintiffs have court judgments for lead, and one has a mold judgment. Dozens of other cases are pending.

"On the half a dozen cases you agreed to a settlement number, pay it," Brochin said. "On the other cases, take it on a case-by-case basis. Take it to the legislature, [say,] 'We made a commitment … we have these cases … we want to put a surcharge on eviction notices of $3 or $5 so we can start funding.'"

But unless the authority abandons its blanket refusal to pay, Brochin said, he could not support any legislation sought by city officials that may come before the divided Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where he has a seat. "Anything they ask for," he said, "I just cannot take seriously."

At the end of this year's legislative session, Brochin joined state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh in briefly tying up the capital budget over the lead judgments. Pugh is challenging Rawlings-Blake for the Democratic mayoral nomination. Brochin's campaign committee gave her $1,000 in July.

Brochin said he wrote the letter now because he has been stewing about it for months, adding, "I've been [in Annapolis] nine years. As far as injustices go, this is at the top."

Brochin was critical of both Rawlings-Blake and Graziano, who also serves as executive director of the housing authority, technically an independent entity largely funded by the federal government.

In his letter, Brochin dismissed as "somewhat comical" Graziano's claim that the authority cannot pay the judgments because most of its money is federal and off limits to plaintiffs, noting that the agency found nearly $4 million since 2005 to pay private lawyers to defend lead paint claims.