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David A. Carney, noted land-use attorney and founder of Columbia-based Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr, dies

David A. Carney, left, and Richard B. Talkin shake hands before litigating a case in 1998 in Howard County.
David A. Carney, left, and Richard B. Talkin shake hands before litigating a case in 1998 in Howard County. (BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR / XX)

David A. Carney, a noted Howard County land-use attorney who was the founding partner of Columbia-based Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease Dec. 8 at his Aiken, South Carolina, home. The former Columbia resident was 82.

“Dave knew how to get a deal done, and his clients always came first,” said Kevin J. Kelehan, a law partner. “He was not only a great lawyer but a great friend.”

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He added: “He brought to the business his ability to see the two or three issues that were holding up a closing or a settlement, sort through them, and get it done. He was a street fighter and an Army veteran who found ways to defuse situations.”

David Anthony Carney, son of Thomas Birch Carney, an Internal Revenue Service executive, and his wife, Magdalen Harig Carney, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and spent his early years in Locust Point and South Baltimore, before moving with his family to Baltimore County’s Charing Cross neighborhood.

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After graduating in 1957 from Loyola Blakefield, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1961 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.

Carney argues a housing development case in 2004 in Ellicott City.
Carney argues a housing development case in 2004 in Ellicott City. (CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF / XX)

A gifted athlete, Mr. Carney was the starting guard on the Greyhounds’ basketball team and right fielder in baseball. He was named an All Mason-Dixon Conference baseball player and won the prestigious Mohler Trophy as a senior as the top athlete in the school.

While at Loyola, he enrolled in the Army ROTC and after graduating from college served in the Military Intelligence Corps where he attained the rank of captain.

He obtained his law degree in 1967 from the University of Maryland School of Law and after passing the bar, began his legal career with Mylander, Atwater, Carney and Stone, a Baltimore law firm that specialized in real property and appellate work, and he later developed a HUD-based real estate practice representing large, regional HUD-approved lenders and borrowers.

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In 1976, Mr. Carney joined Charles Reese when they established Reese & Carney in Baltimore, which later moved to Columbia.The practice grew to include zoning-development approval practice and administrative approval work, while growing the firm’s real estate client base.

Since 2008, the firm has been known as Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr, of which Mr. Carney was the founding senior partner, and in addition to its Columbia office, the firm also maintains offices in Annapolis, Westminster and Salisbury.

“Those who have heard of Dave’s passing, be they developers, lenders or opposing counsel, have said that Dave brought more to the table than just legal expertise — he brought a commitment to solve any difficult problems that were preventing settlement with collaboration. Knowing that committing to the deal, not just insisting that one side win, was the way to closure,” Mr. Kelehan said in a biographical profile of Mr. Carney. “His commitment to that collaboration informs the practice in our entire firm to this day.”

A 1998 Sun article said the two most prominent land-use attorneys in Howard County were David A. Carney and Richard B. Talkin, who had vastly different styles when it came to practicing their legal specialty.

Kathryn Mann, who was a member of the Howard County Planning Board from 1987 to 1991, said in the article that “I have the impression that you can sit down with David and come to a compromise. With Dick, it’s like, ‘This is what we want to do, and there’s no other way.’”

Mr. Carney told the newspaper that his style was that of a “frumpy Columbo,” referring to actor Peter Falk, who played the rumpled detective Columbo on the series by that name that aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978.

“Sometimes I try to bring a little lightness to the proceedings, but not to embarrass anyone,” Mr. Carney explained.

Mr. Kelehan was a young lawyer looking for a job when a friend suggested he call Mr. Carney.

Carney is pictured in 2004 before making a summation.
Carney is pictured in 2004 before making a summation. (CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF / XX)

“I called him on a Friday,” Mr. Kelehan recalled. “He asked me a few questions and then said could I send a writing sample. And then he said, ‘You’ll start Monday,’ to which I replied that’s Labor Day, and he said ‘You’ll start Monday.’ That was 45 years ago.”

In addition to his legal work, Mr. Carney reveled in mentoring young lawyers, Mr. Kelehan said.

“He liked doing that and lived to do it,” Mr. Kelehan said. “He liked sitting down with them and just talking. He wanted to hear about their clients, challenges, and where they wanted to be in five years.”

In addition to being a member of the Maryland State Bar Association’s board of governors, he had been chairman of the Committee on Resolution of Free Disputes and president of the Howard County Bar Association. He also had been active with the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

Mr. Carney retired in 2016 and for the past seven years has lived in Aiken.

He was a member of the Rolling Road Country Club and a founding member of Cattail Creek Country Club in Glenwood in Howard County.

Mr. Carney was an avid golfer and gin rummy player.

“He loved playing golf but only if he could bet,” said his wife of 13 years, the former Daria Russell. “He said it was no fun if he couldn’t bet. He did the same when it came to gin rummy. He had to bet.”

It was Mr. Carney’s weekly routine to go to Rolling Road Country Club in Catonsville on Friday afternoons to play gin rummy. “He’d take along his files and between games, would write bills to his clients,” his wife said.

When living in Baltimore, he was a communicant of Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church and St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church.

He was a parishioner of St. Augustine of Canterbury Church in Aiken where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Jan. 29.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Carney is survived by two sons, Kevin Carney of Timonium and Patrick Carney of Charlotte, North Carolina; a stepson, Michael Russell of Aiken: a sister, Eileen Martin of Vero Beach, Florida; and five grandchildren. Another son, David A. Carney Jr., died in 2006. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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