For months, they’ve traded barbs, argued points of law and aired disputes over private matters and public concerns in hundreds of pages of court filings.
On Thursday, lawyers for Peter Angelos’ warring family members will come to a Baltimore County courtroom to make their cases for who should control the assets of the aging, incapacitated patriarch, from the resurgent Baltimore Orioles to his decades-old personal injury law firm.
The hearing before Circuit Judge Keith R. Truffer will address a range of issues splitting the family members. In June, Peter Angelos’ younger son, Louis, 53, sued his brother, John, 55, the chairman and CEO of the Orioles, and their 80-year-old mother, Georgia, and drew a countersuit against himself.
Below are several of the questions expected to come up during the hearing.
Whither the law firm?
Who will run the law office of Peter Angelos, and will it even continue to exist?
Georgia Angelos wants to wind down or sell her 93-year-old husband’s firm, saying that’s what he would have wanted.
But Louis Angelos, an attorney who has managed the practice in the four years since illness incapacitated Peter Angelos, has resisted. He has argued the firm is his father’s “most significant achievement” and, as a profitable practice with longtime clients, should continue to operate.
Peter Angelos had been the sole partner and stockholder of the firm, which he built representing people harmed by asbestos and tobacco.
In June, signing for his father, Louis Angelos sold the law firm to himself. He said he acted because his mother, in her role as her husband’s agent, failed to transfer the firm’s ownership as required by state law after Peter Angelos became incapacitated.
Georgia Angelos, however, characterized the alleged sale as “outright theft” and “financial elder abuse” of her husband, and sued Louis Angelos under a state law that protects vulnerable adults from exploitation.
Her attorneys have asked Truffer to appoint someone to manage the firm. Louis Angelos’ lawyers have argued he should stay in charge.
In an Oct. 17 filing, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, who recently joined Georgia Angelos’ legal team, asked Truffer to refer the issue to the Maryland Office of the Bar Counsel, which investigates and sanctions attorneys for violations of the state’s rules of professional conduct.
Specifically, Gansler pointed to the rule allowing a court-appointed conservator to take control of a firm’s trust accounts and client files under certain circumstances if an attorney dies or is too sick to work.
And will the firm’s bank accounts be available?
Amid the dispute over who controls the law firm, it could lose access to its bank accounts as early as this week, rendering it unable to operate.
In a filing this week, Wells Fargo said it only recently became aware that Peter Angelos, with whom it has a long business relationship, was incapacitated and his law office had been using his signature stamp for transactions. None of the family members involved in the litigation are signatories to the firm’s 11 Wells Fargo accounts, which include operating, payroll and trust accounts, the filing said.
Louis Angelos had contacted Wells Fargo at the end of September about new signature cards for the accounts, around the same time the bank heard from Georgia Angelos’ attorneys. Her lawyers said as her husband’s attorney-in-fact, only she was authorized to transact business with the accounts, according to letters entered as exhibits. One of her attorneys warned that Louis Angelos had enacted a “bogus and sham purchase” of law firm, and Wells Fargo was on notice that Georgia Angelos was challenging this alleged sale.
“The competing demands and claims of ownership have put Wells Fargo in an untenable position, and it may be necessary for the bank to place holds on the accounts,” a lawyer for Wells Fargo wrote the attorneys representing the Angelos family members on Oct. 5.
The bank reluctantly agreed to maintain the “status quo” only until Thursday’s hearing.
“To be clear, after the October 27 Hearing, Wells Fargo will not allow Angelos Law to continue to use the signature stamp of Peter to conduct bank business,” its filing stated.
The bank is asking Truffer to declare who may act on behalf of the firm while the litigation is pending. If he can’t determine at this point who has the authority, the bank wants to put the firm’s funds in the custody of the court until the issue is resolved.
Speaking of Wells Fargo
Also on the hearing agenda is how much information Wells Fargo and investment banker Goldman Sachs have to disclose about their dealings with the family.
Louis Angelos has subpoenaed Wells Fargo for records, including fund transfers, loans, credit applications and other information, from Peter and Georgia Angelos’ personal accounts, and those of the Orioles and the team’s broadcaster, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network or MASN.
He also is seeking communications between Goldman Sachs and Major League Baseball officials, including MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, and documents related to a potential sale of the Orioles or MASN.
According to court filings, Georgia Angelos made preparations to sell the team, and retained Goldman Sachs and the law firm Jones Day to assist in those efforts. Sources have told The Baltimore Sun, however, that John Angelos would prefer to sell a portion of the team while retaining his family’s majority control.
Attorneys for Georgia Angelos and John Angelos have argued that the subpoenas are overly broad, potentially revealing confidential or irrelevant information, and want them limited.
Louis Angelos has subpoenaed the records, his attorney, Jeffrey E. Nusinov wrote Truffer on Oct. 11, because he “has been denied all information pertaining to the sale process.”
Who speaks for Peter Angelos?
To date, Peter Angelos has been the silent center of the legal dispute, unable to weigh in on the battle over his self-made fortune.
But earlier this week, Louis Angelos’ attorneys asked that a lawyer be appointed to represent Peter Angelos in the proceedings. They suggested Michael A. Stanley, who they said had done estate planning for Peter Angelos, or that Truffer appoint an independent attorney.
The request came in response to Truffer seeking clarification on the trust that Peter Angelos created for his assets in October 2017 as his health was deteriorating. Family members agree he became incapacitated the following summer. An Aug. 9, 2019, amendment shows he ceased serving as its trustee and his wife and two sons being appointed as co-trustees.
But, Truffer notes in a recent order, if Peter Angelos became incapacitated in 2018, did he have the capacity to resign as trustee a year later?
In a response last week, Gansler and other attorneys said Georgia Angelos and her sons became co-trustees under a provision allowing them to succeed Peter Angelos if “for any reason” he became unable to continue in that role.
The lawyers also responded to another question from Truffer on which assets were transferred into the trust. They said only Peter Angelos’ stock interest in the Orioles and his slightly more than 61% interest in the partnership that bought the team have been moved into the trust.
Truffer, who has consolidated Louis Angelos’ and Georgia Angelos’ lawsuits into one, has outlined a timetable leading to a July 10 jury trial.
That may not come to pass; the case could be settled out of court, for example. Attorneys for the parties also have said they’re open to mediation. Truffer has directed them to nominate possible mediators by next month. If they can’t agree, he will appoint someone from a court-approved list.
How much the public will be privy to also has been subject to debate. Attorneys for Georgia Angelos filed a motion Monday asking the judge to close the courtroom Thursday to the public when the parties discuss two subjects: commercial and financial information about the law firm and Peter Angelos’ health. They’re also seeking to seal certain records about the law firm.
They argued information could be revealed about the firm’s financial health and its clients and business dealings that could harm its ability to compete for business and its value in a future sale.
The Morning Sun
“Aside from tabloid curiosity, there is no public interest in the inner workings of a private law firm,” the attorneys wrote.
Also, the hearing may delve into specifics about Peter Angelos’ health and diagnosis, “which could be relevant to several issues, including a potential succession plan for the firm,” according to the motion.
But after an attorney representing The Baltimore Sun intervened Tuesday to keep the hearing open, Truffer denied Mrs. Angelos’ request. The Daily Record, The Baltimore Banner and The Washington Post have joined The Sun in seeking to keep the courtroom open.
Truffer wrote in his order that the Court of Appeals in 2000, ruling in a previous Sun case, recognized the “public’s right of open access to courtrooms.”
The judge also noted documents filed in the case describe the state of Peter Angelos’ health, making it “a matter of public record.
“A closure of the courtroom would do nothing,” Truffer wrote, “to protect the right of privacy asserted on behalf of the Angelos family.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.