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Baltimore city solicitor files complaint against lawyer retained by Civilian Review Board during dispute

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis has filed an ethics complaint against a private attorney who was hired by the Civilian Review Board, which recently withdrew its lawsuit against the city over a dispute about confidentiality agreements.

Davis filed the complaint against Salisbury-based attorney Robin R. Cockey on Monday with the Maryland Office of Bar Counsel, which investigates alleged attorney misconduct. In a letter to the Bar Counsel, Davis said Cockey misrepresented to the Baltimore Circuit Court that he had authority to serve as the attorney for the Civilian Review Board.

“By entering his appearance and filing a complaint purporting to represent an entity he may not lawfully represent, Mr. Cockey has made a false statement to the court,” Davis said in a letter.

“I am hopeful that your office will see fit to conduct a thorough investigation of the matters set forth in this complaint as the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore’s interests will be harmed by allowing the unlawful acts evident in the circumstances to go unaddressed,” Davis wrote.

The complaint comes after a months-long battle between the city solicitor and the Civilian Review Board, a group of city resident volunteers who investigate police misconduct complaints. The board recommends discipline to the police commissioner, but has no power to impose sanctions on officers.

Reached by phone Monday night, Cockey said the complaint against him was unnecessary because the board withdrew its lawsuit.

“It’s wonderful that the Civilian Review Board and the city were able to resolve their issues,” Cockey said. But the complaint, he said, was akin to “throwing a little gasoline over the dying embers. Putting my interests aside, I don’t see how filing a grievance against the counsel is moving us in a direction of a better working relationship.”

Cockey said he disagreed with Davis that the Civilian Review Board must be represented by the city’s law office. The board was not created by the Baltimore City charter, but by the state legislature to serve as a “watchdog over different agencies. They must be, to a certain extent, autonomous,” Cockey said.

The board, Cockey said, is not another “garden variety city agency” that is subjected to charter provisions that it must be represented by the city solicitor’s office.

Davis did not respond to a call for comment on his complaint.

The dispute began this summer when Davis requested the members sign confidentiality agreements. Several members said they felt the agreements were excessive and feared they would impede their work.

The members refused to sign the agreements, prompting Davis to direct the Police Department to withhold police internal affairs files of cases that were set to be reviewed by the board. The Civilian Review Board then retained Cockey, pro bono, and filed a lawsuit against the city last month.

The dispute seemed to be resolved when Davis announced that he would no longer require board members to sign confidentiality agreements in November, but warned they may face legal action on their own over any allegations of public leaks of police officers’ confidential personnel documents that they are authorized to review. Davis also said the board would again receive officer internal affairs files to review cases.

After Davis’s announcement, the board withdrew its lawsuit.

“We have been assured by City Solicitor Andre Davis that the files, which are absolutely essential for the Civilian Review Board to function, will in the future be provided promptly and without the need for more judicial intervention,” Bridal Pearson, the board’s chairman, said in a statement. But Pearson also warned that the board would retain Cockey “in case other conflicts of interests arise.”

Davis said his decision to stop requiring the board members to sign confidentiality agreements was not related to the lawsuit. Rather, he said the timing was the result of a new director of the Office of Civil Rights, and an interest to “set a good working relationship with the new Director,” his complaint said.

David Rocah, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, called the move by Davis “ironic.”

“It is Mr. Davis who directed the BPD to flagrantly violate the law in an attempt to force the CRB to sign a regressive confidentiality agreement that misstated their confidentiality obligations, and that no reasonable or ethical CRB member would or should sign. And it is Davis who attempted to prevent the CRB from getting a judicial ruling on the propriety of Davis' and the BPD's actions by refusing to recognize the indisputable conflict of interest when he found himself representing both sides in a legal dispute,” Rocah said in an email Tuesday.

“If anyone should be facing an ethics investigation it is him,” Rocah said.

Cockey noted Pearson’s previous comments about moving on from the dispute. Cockey quoted from Pearson’s statement, “We all serve the public, but we serve the public best when we work together and as much as possible in full public view.”

Cockey said Davis “doesn’t seem to be up to smoothing ruffled feathers.”

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

Earlier online versions of this article misspelled Robin R. Cockey’s name. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
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