A prominent Baltimore defense lawyer has been accused of helping drug dealers commit and cover up crimes, and a second has been accused of obstructing justice on behalf of the first, who is a client, according to documents filed in a federal appeals court.
Neither Ken Ravenell, the first attorney, nor Joshua Treem, the second, has been charged with a crime.
The documents were filed last month by federal prosecutors in response to a challenge by Treem’s law firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy, to the handling of documents obtained through a federal raid on the firm’s Baltimore offices in June.
The prosecutors accused Ravenell of “assisting drug dealers [to] sell drugs, laundering the proceeds of drug dealers and then attempting to cover up their crimes by obstructing investigations of the drug dealers,” and said their investigation of Ravenell was “frustrated by the obstructive conduct” of Treem.
Oral arguments to discuss the firm’s appeal of the scope of the raid and the handling of the documents obtained through it are set for Tuesday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. The proceeding will be the first public airing of facts in a case long rumored but never previously explained in detail.
The appeals court filings are partially redacted and do not name the law firm, Treem or Ravenell, but they do contain enough information to identify them. That includes June 18 as the date of the raids on Treem and Ravenell’s offices; that the two lawyers in question once worked at the same law firm, as Treem and Ravenell once did; and that the law firm that brought the appeal had released a public statement claiming the search warrant for the raid was “limited” in scope and related to a single client, as Brown, Goldstein & Levy did after the raid there.
Brown, Goldstein & Levy is seeking significant restrictions on the use of thousands of emails and other files obtained during a federal raid on the firm’s Baltimore offices in June, arguing investigators who carried it out had trampled protections core to the legal system and the special relationship between criminal defendants and their attorneys.
“If clients and their lawyers believe that prosecutors may one day sift through their communications in searches involving unrelated matters, clients are less likely to be candid with their lawyers, and lawyers will hesitate before writing down what they need to write down,” the firm argued in its appeal. “This is unfair to clients, and harms the attorney-client relationship. This case involves a gross violation of these principles.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur’s office argued the importance of trustworthiness among the bar was a prime reason for the raids.
“There can be no greater threat to the operation of the legal system than attorneys who engage in criminal conduct,” prosecutors wrote in their response to the appeal. “Attorneys occupy a unique position of trust. They are the conduit of information to the Court. Judges, other attorneys, and clients necessarily rely on the veracity and integrity of attorneys. Without that, our judicial system fails.”
Ravenell declined to comment Monday. Treem did not respond to requests for comment. Andy Levy, a partner at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, and James P. Ulwick, an attorney for the firm in the appeal, declined to discuss the case. Hur’s office also did not respond to requests for comment.
Ravenell is one of the top defense attorneys in town.
His star partially dimmed in 2014 after agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service jointly raided offices at One South St., the home of the prominent Baltimore firm of William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., where Ravenell was a partner. Ravenell left the firm shortly thereafter. The raid went unexplained.
However, Ravenell quickly started his own firm. While he stopped handling federal cases, he continued working state cases and now routinely takes on high-profile criminal cases from his Mount Vernon office.
Last month, Ravenell defended Keon Gray, the West Baltimore man found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of 7-year-old Taylor Hayes, killed by a shot into the car she was sitting in. Ravenell sued Baltimore County Police on behalf of the young son of Korryn Gaines, the Randallstown woman who was shot and killed by police during a barricade in 2016, winning the boy an award of millions that was later thrown out. Ravenell is representing Phillip West, a man who goes to trial for murder next month on accusations he fatally shot his pool game partner at the Blarney Stone Pub in Fells Point.
Treem also is a prominent attorney — and a former federal prosecutor, beginning his career in Baltimore in the 1970s, according to his firm’s website. He went on to defend high-profile clients ranging from public officials to the Indianapolis Colts, who were sued for leaving Baltimore in 1984. Treem also defended one of the two D.C. snipers.
In June, it was DEA and IRS agents who raided Ravenell’s firm, and Treem’s offices at Brown, Goldstein & Levy.
Prosecutors said they have shown probable cause that Ravenell and Tream have “engaged in criminal conduct,” and that high-level approval of the raids was given not “lightly," but because of the “gravity and import in rooting out criminal conduct by attorneys.”
Prosecutors said Brown, Goldstein & Levy “refused to recuse itself from this matter when it was notified” that Treem was a subject of the investigation and that multiple conflicts in the case warranted such recusal.
At the time of the raids, Brown, Goldstein & Levy issued a statement saying a “limited search warrant” regarding “one of our clients” had been executed at its offices, and that the firm had “complied with the warrant” and was “continuing to ensure all client confidences are protected.”
But after the search, the firm sought an emergency restraining order and preliminary injunction against prosecutors, asking that the seized materials be returned.
When its request was denied, it appealed.
In its appeal, the law firm argued federal agents inappropriately swept up “voluminous law firm files, known to contain thousands of client confidences unrelated to the investigation” of Ravenell. It said agents had seized emails that pertain to clients of Treem’s who are being investigated or prosecuted by Hur’s office, and others that contain “extensive, privileged materials" prepared by other firm attorneys for their own clients.
The firm said it objected to the “over-breadth of the search and seizure” on the day of the raid, to no avail. It complained that the warrant it received redacted the description of things allowed to be seized, making it difficult to determine whether the scope of the raid was appropriate or whether the actions of the investigators were in fact within the scope of the warrant. And it said a total of 59,000 emails were taken, even though only 62 emails related to Ravenell — suggesting the scope was indeed beyond what the case at hand would allow.
The firm also argued that a so-called “filter team” of outside prosecutors assigned to review the files and separate out only those relevant to the case at hand was an insufficient remedy for the overreach, and that a magistrate judge or special master should conduct the review instead.
It argued that prosecutors on the “filter team” will either be obliged to share, or won’t be able to prevent themselves from sharing, incriminating information found in the documents obtained during the raid, even if that information has nothing to do with Ravenell or Treem.
“Prosecutors, whose job is to prosecute suspected criminals, are humans who cannot un-see what they see during review,” the firm argued, and the “simple and well-established” solution is to have a magistrate judge or special master conduct the review.
In their response, prosecutors in Hur’s office said the sensitive nature of the case was considered before the raids were ever conducted, to the extent that permission was sought in advance from Justice Department officials in Washington.
They said the only files sought were appropriately restricted in scope, a warrant for which had been granted by a magistrate judge after “a lengthy recitation of facts” in the case.
They also said the judge who signed the warrant approved the review process by the filter team, and that a lower court has already determined the filter team “can be neutral."