‘It’s an opinion. That’s not a law.’ Baltimore Sheriff John Anderson defends city’s eviction process amid grilling from City Council

In his first appearance before Baltimore the City Council in several years on Tuesday, Sheriff John Anderson sparred with members over the city’s eviction policy, arguing he and his staff are not bound by an opinion from the Maryland attorney general.

The meeting came on the final day of the City Council’s budget hearings, which had been extended due to Anderson’s failure to appear at his regularly scheduled hearing on June 6. Council members demanded an appearance by the sheriff, who has served in his elected position more than three decades.


Sometimes speaking himself, but often letting deputies and other officials in his office do the talking, Anderson defended his policy of placing eviction notices on shared or exterior doors to apartment buildings when deputies find the doors to be locked.

Multiple council members noted the procedure contradicts a 2001 opinion issued by then Attorney General Joseph Curran. That opinion, issued at Anderson’s request, states that eviction notices are to be placed on the property being repossessed, specifically the individual apartment, absent “extraordinary circumstances.”


Asked repeatedly about the policy by City Council members, sheriff’s office officials said the attorney general opinion is not law.

Hikeen Crampton, director of district court for the sheriff’s office, said a judge had advised the sheriff that only the state General Assembly could dictate law. Crampton said the office does not have a written opinion from the judge, who he identified only as Judge Cooper, but pledged to get one for the City Council.

Councilman Zeke Cohen asked whether there was a particular portion of the attorney general’s opinion the office objected to.

“The courts may not agree with the totality of what the attorney general has said,” Anderson said.

“It’s my understanding that the attorney general is there to interpret the law not necessarily for your interest, but for the state of Maryland,” Cohen said.

“I represent the people,” Anderson replied. “State constitution. Just as each of you. We all represent the people.”

Councilman Ryan Dorsey said there’s no other way to interpret the attorney general’s opinion.

“That is the entire purpose of the attorney general’s opinion to clarify that, and yet after seeking this opinion yourself 21 years ago, you have sought to have somebody else provide an opinion to the contrary?” Dorsey asked.


Anderson said his deputies routinely find locked doors as they attempt to serve eviction notices. Dorsey questioned why the office is not working with landlords to coordinate opening common doors.

“Why is the sheriff’s office doing the bare minimum to notify that you’re going to throw someone out on the street, instead of getting the landlords to let you into the building so you can do something in a humane manner?” Dorsey asked.

“We notify the landlords. We notify the leasing office,” Crampton said.

“The opinion says that’s not good enough,” Dorsey shot back.

“It’s an opinion,” Crampton said. “That’s not a law.”

“That’s the attorney general of the state of Maryland telling you that’s what the law in the state of Maryland is,” Dorsey said.


“That’s his opinion,” Crampton responded.

Democrat Anderson is embroiled in a contested primary campaign to keep the post he has held since 1989. Democrat Sam Cogen, Anderson’s former deputy, is vying to oust the sheriff and also was present for Tuesday’s hearing, although he did not speak.

Councilman Eric Costello, who chaired the hearing, has endorsed Cogen, and opened the proceeding by disclosing that.

Drilling down further on the eviction process, council members expressed dismay that sheriff’s office officials won’t disclose eviction dates to callers when they contact the office.

Crampton said such a disclosure would be a privacy concern.

“We don’t know who we’re talking to on the telephone,” Crampton said.


“If a sign is getting posted on an external door for the whole world to see, what’s the difference who is calling?” asked Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.

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“Aren’t you violating people’s privacy by putting it in a common area?” Councilwoman Odette Ramos asked.

Council members also questioned if the sheriff’s office has been checking whether landlords have valid licenses to rent their properties as evictions are filed. Crampton said the office is not checking; it’s the responsibility of a tenant to raise a licensing dispute in court.

“Unfortunately, a lot of tenants don’t know if they’re not licensed,” Ramos said.

Councilman Mark Conway called the failure to check licenses “incredibly upsetting.”

“If we’re not checking that,” he said, “that’s a big, big loophole for slumlords.”


The City Council has yet to advance Mayor Brandon Scott’s $4 billion proposed 2023 budget out of committee for a vote of the full board. Costello, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday a committee vote would likely come Wednesday.

Baltimore’s charter requires the City Council to pass a budget five days before the start of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.