Baltimore Co. changes bond counsel


After 19 years as private bond counsel for Baltimore County government, the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury has been replaced by another prestigious firm -- one with closer political ties to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III.

The switch to Venable, Baetjer & Howard reflects the fortunes of politics, according to Mr. Ruppersberger, a lawyer and former county councilman who was elected in November.

"That was my decision. I worked very closely with two individuals [from Venable] both during and after the campaign, who volunteered hours and hours," he said. "We needed to balance out. Venable could do the same job."

The executive referred to Michael H. Davis, a veteran political worker who is now the county's $74,880-a-year lobbyist, and Newton B. Fowler III, another Venable attorney who heads the task force drawing up Mr. Ruppersberger's plan to privatize the county's Economic Development Commission.

Mr. Ruppersberger said he spoke to a partner at Piper to inform the firm of the change, but did not reveal the firm's response. A spokeswoman said the firm had no comment.

The county uses private lawyers to check the legal sufficiency of its bond sales and refinancings because the work is highly specialized, according to county Finance Director James R. Gibson Jr. Documents must be checked closely for compliance with state and federal tax laws.

Officials said the work has never been awarded by competitive bid because bond sales are sporadic, with as much as 18 months between issues, and the county often changes its plans based on market conditions and cash flow.

As a result, the value of the work varies. Piper and Marbury earned $51,000 in fiscal 1994, $61,000 in 1993, and an all-time high of $185,000 in 1992, when low interest rates prompted refinancings.

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