Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced Tuesday that county attorney Michael Field is leaving his position and will become a senior policy advisor for Olszewski’s office.
Olszewski named James R. Benjamin Jr., a former Assistant City Solicitor for Baltimore City who is currently employed by the Baltimore-based law firm Gordon Feinblatt, to replace Field, the county said.
Benjamin’s appointment as county attorney must be approved by the county council. The county attorney is the official representative of both the county and the council in litigation.
As county attorney, Field drafted every major piece of legislation introduced by any county executive since 2005, and the county said he will continue to advise on and draft legislation. As senior advisor, he will as oversee efforts to put the complete Code of Baltimore County Regulations online for the first time.
Field has served as county attorney since 2010 and is one of the highest-paid county employees with a salary of $215,268, county data shows. He first joined the Baltimore County Office of Law in 1997 to conduct the decennial code revision.
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His replacement Benjamin was a former law clerk for Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Ellen M. Heller. He served as an assistant city solicitor with the Baltimore City Law Department’s Land Use and Litigation divisions where he handled constitutional and administrative law matters.
Benjamin previously co-chaired a Baltimore City panel studying police body-worn cameras in 2014 and 2015 and was a member of the Baltimore County Charter Review Commission in 2016 and 2017. He also has served on the Maryland State Ethics Commission.
“James brings a wealth of experience in litigation, deep knowledge in a variety of areas relevant to local government, and has been a trusted advisor to small, minority and women-owned businesses,” Olszewski said in a statement. “I’m honored that an attorney and community leader of his caliber is joining our team.”
If Benjamin’s appointment is approved by the county council, he will receive a salary of $225,000, county spokesman Sean Naron said.
In addition to being represented by the county attorney, the council has its own legislative counsel as well, but that individual acts primarily as its secretary by supervising the council’s administrative functions, which includes drafting council legislation.
County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he expects the council will put “more scrutiny” on this appointment than what’s been seen with other positions. The county executive’s plans for handling an issue can put him at odds with the council, he said, thus potentially putting the county attorney in the middle of the dispute.
“It is somewhat unique that he is the legal advisor to both the council and the executive," Marks said, "and for that reason I believe there will be some in depth discussion about his appointment.”