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Lawyer Ken Ravenell continues to represent some of Baltimore's most high-profile cases, even as he faces federal drug and conspiracy charges. The Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office is taking steps to make sure his clients don't use his legal woes to bolster their appeals.
Lawyer Ken Ravenell continues to represent some of Baltimore's most high-profile cases, even as he faces federal drug and conspiracy charges. The Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office is taking steps to make sure his clients don't use his legal woes to bolster their appeals. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

During the sentencing hearing for convicted killer Keon Gray, the judge took a moment to ask him some questions at the bench.

Prosecutors had to make sure Gray’s conviction would not come undone. So Baltimore Circuit Judge Althea Handy called Gray up.

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“They said you had indicated a reluctance or concern about Mr. Ravenell’s situation and that you wanted, perhaps, a new counsel?” she asked.

The situation she referred to was a federal drug conspiracy case against his defense attorney, Ken Ravenell. The lawyer was indicted last month, creating an unusual state of affairs: He’s handling high-profile cases in state court while fighting his own federal charges.

“You still want to continue with Mr. Ravenell?” the judge asked him in a recording of the hearing reviewed by The Baltimore Sun.

Her questions came at the request of city prosecutors who are taking measures to ensure that Ravenell’s personal case does not wipe out their convictions. They have begun to tell his clients of the federal charges — Ravenell says he already told them — and to ask these clients if they are satisfied with the lawyer.

In a letter to Ravenell this month, Michael Schatzow, chief deputy of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, outlined their plans.

“We will want the record to reflect that your client understands that the pending charges may be a distraction to you, may cause you to represent them less vigorously than you might otherwise in order to curry favor with the State, and thus indirectly with the government, and that jurors may be aware of the charges pending against you and may hold that against your client," Schatzow wrote him. “We do not suggest that any of those possibilities are true, but that your clients understand that they will not be able to raise any such claims after a guilty verdict.”

Ravenell, 60, of Monkton, has established himself as one of Baltimore’s top defense attorneys. He defended Gray against murder charges for the deadly shooting of 7-year-old Taylor Hayes. Earlier this month, the judge sentenced Gray to 75 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors indicted Ravenell on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering and drug distribution. They accuse him of conspiring at least five years ago with the millionaire boss of a cross-country marijuana ring to conceal drug deals and launder money.

Ravenell has maintained his innocence; his trial has not been scheduled.

“Mr. Ravenell asserts his innocence, is presumed innocent, and his trial will confirm his innocence,” his attorney, Lucius Outlaw III, wrote in an email. “Mr. Ravenell has long been a member in good standing of the Maryland bar, and there is no prohibition on his ability to practice. Mr. Ravenell has advised his clients about his pending case, and all of them have elected to continue with Mr. Ravenell as their attorney — a clear endorsement of Mr. Ravenell’s skills, experience, and integrity.”

Last month, a federal magistrate judge ordered Ravenell to disclose the charges to his clients. She did not bar him from practicing law.

His clients, meanwhile, have little chance of getting out of prison because of their attorney’s alleged crimes, said Joseph Murphy Jr., a retired Court of Appeals judge and former deputy state’s attorney. He once taught a young Ravenell at the University of Maryland School of Law.

“Merely because a lawyer is under indictment doesn’t mean he has to stop practicing law,” Murphy said. “If you want to subscribe to this: An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. Then I suppose I can understand the interest in trying to guard against future litigation.”

Murphy said a conviction may come undone if the courts find a conflict of interest between the lawyer and his or her client.

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“A lawyer protecting himself or herself," Murphy said, “as opposed to protecting the interests of the client.”

He also played down the notion that an indictment would draw a lawyer’s attention away from the task at hand or turn a jury against a client. He called the prosecutors’ plan unnecessary.

The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland investigates allegations that lawyers have broken the law and ethical rules, and prosecutes them. A spokeswoman for the office declined to comment, saying state laws bar her from confirming or denying the existence of an investigation into any attorney.

The case against Ravenell stems from his time representing Jamaican national Richard Byrd in a federal drug case between 2009 and 2014. Byrd pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to distribute drugs and launder money. He remains in federal prison.

In the indictment, prosecutors accuse Ravenell of coaching drug dealers in Byrd’s organization to use disposable cellphones, to obfuscate their travels by making arrangements for multiple trips, to form fake identities and hide their bank accounts, and to influence witnesses to lie or be silent.

Federal agents raided Ravenell’s office in 2014. Since then, he has discontinued much of his federal work and mostly takes cases in state court. Last June, they raided his office again.

On Friday, prosecutors told the judge they heard Gray on jailhouse phone calls speaking with concern about Ravenell’s case.

“He has a lot of concern about how it makes his case look and how it makes him look,” Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Pillion told her.

“Just for the record," Ravenell said, “I personally advised Mr. Gray more than once about this.”

The judge called up Gray and asked if he wished to proceed with his lawyer.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

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