A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge Wednesday denied a request to disqualify the attorney he appointed to represent Orioles owner Peter Angelos in the family feud over his fortune, rejecting allegations of conflicts of interest.
Benjamin Rosenberg will continue to represent the interests of Angelos, 93, and incapacitated by illness, in the lawsuits that have pitted his younger son, Louis, against Peter Angelos’ wife, Georgia, and older son, John, the chairman and CEO of the Orioles.
An attorney for Louis Angelos had sought to disqualify Rosenberg, citing his “animus” against Peter Angelos’ law firm, which is among the assets whose fate is in dispute within the family. Rosenberg also had a conflict of interest, according to Louis Angelos’ attorney, because his own firm had opposed the Angelos firm in an asbestos-related case.
But Baltimore County Circuit Judge Keith R. Truffer wrote in his ruling that those allegations involve Peter Angelos’ law firm, not Angelos himself, and he did not view them as disqualifying.
“A conflict between Mr. Rosenberg and the interests of the Law Firm, or any of its members, is not necessarily a conflict with the interests of Mr. Peter Angelos,” Truffer wrote.
His only interest, Truffer added was “whether there may be a conflict between Mr. Rosenberg and his obligations to Mr. Peter Angelos.”
Truffer also rejected another argument made by Louis Angelos’ attorney, Jeffrey E. Nusinov, that Rosenberg should be disqualified because he is related to Steven D. Silverman, an attorney for John Angelos. According to Rosenberg’s response to the motion to disqualify him, his mother is the sister of Silverman’s grandmother.
Nusinov had argued that the three conflicts he cited should have been disclosed when Truffer said at an Oct. 27 hearing that he would appoint Rosenberg to make sure Peter Angelos was represented in the legal battle waged by family members over control of his assets.
As he has since holding the first hearing in the case, Truffer urged the opposing sides to turn down the heat of their rhetoric, noting that he had to sift through “unnecessarily vitriolic point-counterpoint” of the arguments over whether Rosenberg should be disqualified.
“Both sides would be well advised to temper their sharp personal characterizations of each other,” Truffer said in a footnote to the ruling. “The court finds that this type of written advocacy is neither illuminating nor commensurate with the reputations of the fine lawyers weighing in on these issues.”
The legal fight began in June, when Louis Angelos, a lawyer who has been managing his father’s firm in the several years since he became incapacitated, sued his mother and brother, over control of the Orioles, the law firm and real estate properties owned by the family patriarch.
In August, Georgia Angelos sued her younger son, saying his transfer of the law firm to himself was theft and “financial elder abuse” of her husband, who had been the sole owner and partner of the firm renowned for winning billions of dollars in awards and settlements for victims of asbestos and tobacco.
The suits have revealed that the family has looked into selling the Orioles, although sources close to John Angelos have told The Baltimore Sun he favors maintaining a majority stake in the team. Also in contention are what to do with the law firm, which Peter Angelos started shortly after graduating from the University of Baltimore law school in 1961. Georgia Angelos and John Angelos want to dissolve or sell the firm, which is smaller than during the peak of its asbestos litigation, while Louis Angelos wants to keep it in operation.
The latest dispute came over Rosenberg, who has sought access to the Angelos law firm’s finances and cases as part of his representation of the incapacitated legal titan.
Nusinov said Rosenberg shouldn’t be allowed to “rummage” through those records when Rosenberg’s own firm represented a company, Bestwall, that had accused the Angelos firm of withholding evidence in an asbestos case.
But Truffer wrote that the Rosenberg Martin Greenberg firm’s involvement was minor and is no longer ongoing. Additionally, Rosenberg himself had no role in the Bestwall case, and “there is no suggestion that there was any information obtained in that litigation which could be used to Mr. Angelos’ personal disadvantage.”
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Truffer also rejected the argument that Rosenberg bore animosity toward the law firm and one of its attorneys, Jay Miller, because they had represented banker and developer Ed Hale in a suit against Rosenberg Martin.
Nusinov said in a filing that Rosenberg became enraged and shouted expletives when they discussed the matter, and this lack of objectivity toward Miller and the law firm could affect his representation of Peter Angelos. Rosenberg said in his own filing that he didn’t even know Miller and only had a “negative view” of him from the Hale case.
While this is all “eye-catching,” Truffer wrote, he did not find “any personal antipathy for the law firm” to pose a conflict to the interests of Peter Angelos in the current case.
Truffer also said Rosenberg and Silverman being second cousins is not disqualifying because it doesn’t “demonstrate or even suggest a conflict of interest between familial sympathies and the legal interests of the parties.”
Ultimately, Truffer said, he chose Rosenberg based on his familiarity with the lawyer’s reputation and stature within the legal community, his integrity and his extensive experience in high-profile civil litigation.
Nusinov did not respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, Truffer also agreed to allow the Angelos law firm to intervene in the case to respond to Rosenberg’s request for information. Truffer will hear arguments on that and other issues in the case at a hearing Tuesday.