As Baltimore struggles to fight unrelenting crime amid turnover at the top of the police department and in the mayor’s office, City Solicitor Andre Davis is resigning, saying Thursday he has "run out of fuel.”
Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he accepted Davis’ resignation, effective March 1.
“I am truly grateful for the support and counsel Solicitor Davis has provided me since I became mayor of our great city,” Young said in a statement.
A former appellate court judge, Davis was tapped in 2017 by then-Mayor Catherine Pugh to lead the city’s law department.
Since then, Pugh has resigned, and she pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and tax evasion charges. Davis has had to work with four different police commissioners — including one who went to prison for failing to file federal tax returns — as the city attempts to reform a police department under a federal court-enforced consent decree.
“I poured my heart and soul into the work,” Davis said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “We’ve had some great successes, but we haven’t achieved everything I hoped we’d achieve. I’ve sort of run out of fuel, really.
“Some of the hills have been steeper than I thought,” he said. “The whole implosion of Mayor Pugh — I burned a lot of fuel getting through that.”
Davis was seen as one of Pugh’s biggest hires. She convinced him to leave the bench, he said, based on the “sincerity and depth of her commitment to Baltimore.” But two years later, it was Davis who drafted and delivered her resignation letter. A corruption scandal revolving around Pugh’s dealings with companies with business before the city forced her from City Hall, and Davis was left to oversee the massive reshuffling of municipal leadership.
“It was quite a blow to me to learn what we learned,” he said.
Davis, 70, still plans to represent the city in an upcoming court hearing as officials fight to limit the city’s financial exposure to a building wave of lawsuits stemming from the police department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
“I want to make absolutely certain the department is left in really good shape in terms of all the litigation we’re handling,” Davis said.
The city’s top lawyer defends Baltimore in court and brings lawsuits on behalf of its residents. The solicitor also occupies one of five seats on the city’s powerful spending board, one of three votes controlled by the mayor. Davis’ annual salary is $188,000.
Deputy City Solicitor Dana P. Moore, who is paid $163,000 a year, will serve as interim solicitor. Moore said city government is losing a good man, one who embraced the law and broke down barriers. “He always led with integrity and tried to do what was best not just for the most in the city, but also for the least of us,” she said.
Pugh, a Democrat, persuaded Davis to leave his position as a senior judge with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking him again and again to accept the job as city solicitor.
The hire was celebrated by legal analysts who, at the time, called it a “great coup." Davis was a highly respected judge who had condemned unconstitutional policing from the bench.
Davis said at the time that his priority was to implement the consent decree, which mandates broad reforms at the police department following a federal civil rights investigation after Freddie Gray died from a spine injury he suffered in a police van in 2015.
“If in two or three years we haven’t reformed the police department, I think the people are going to blame the mayor. But it will be my failure,” Davis told reporters at a 2017 City Hall news conference.
The next two years brought an onslaught of challenges.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the consent decree, expressed doubts last year that the department would be able to carry out needed changes due to the turnover in leadership and a lack of resources.
And Davis sparred often with the police union, saying earlier this year that the “Fraternal Order of Police has the city in a chokehold.”
The solicitor was also at the center of a monthslong standoff between his law department and the Civilian Review Board. The dispute began when Davis said the members of the board, which is charged with reviewing policy brutality and abuse allegations, needed to sign confidentiality agreements. Members refused, saying they believed the law department was trying to “strategically contain" them.
Members then said they were no longer able to access internal affairs records they needed to review cases and so they sued. Davis later agreed that they would not have to sign the confidentiality agreements, leading the board to withdraw its lawsuit.
State Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Democrat who previously led the city’s civil rights office, said she had high hopes when Davis started. That changed after seeing the way he responded to the Civilian Review Board.
“He was not the right person to help us reform the police department and repair the rift between the department and the people,” she said.
Recently, Davis went back and forth with the City Council over proposed “gag order” legislation. The council unanimously passed a bill in October that bans the use of gag orders in city settlements for police brutality and discrimination cases. But Davis said the legislation was written in way that was “unenforceable” under the city’s charter. He said the law department took other steps to improve transparency: Since September, when offering settlements in cases involving police, the city gives plaintiffs a chance to appear publicly before the Board of Estimates and speak about their agreements.
“It has been quite surprising to me how the council turns legal issues into political issues and political issues into legal issues when it fits the council’s mood,” Davis said.
Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott said he and other council members pushed that bill, despite the law department’s warnings, “because people have the right to speak their truth.”
Scott thanked Davis for his service to the city, while saying the resignation provides an “opportunity for us to bring in a new leader of that agency with a 21st-century vision on how to operate it.” The mayor will nominate a new solicitor, whose appointment will need the council’s confirmation.
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Despite the challenges, Davis said he’s proud of the role he had in convincing Police Commissioner Michael Harrison to leave New Orleans and lead Baltimore’s department. He also points to the ratification of the police union’s 2018 labor agreement, which increases civilian oversight of the department, as one of his biggest accomplishments.
Davis grew up in East Baltimore, entering kindergarten the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school segregation.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he returned to Baltimore to enroll in the University of Maryland law school, where he became president of the Black Law Students Association.
In 1995, Democratic President Bill Clinton appointed Davis to the U.S. District Court for Maryland. Democratic President Barack Obama elevated Davis to the appeals court in 2009.
Davis drew praise from the left for one of his final rulings at the appeals court, an order in support of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student from Virginia who sued to be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at his high school.
In his resignation letter to Young, dated Monday, Davis said he dedicated his life to public service.
“None of that service,” he wrote, “was more rewarding for me than the two-plus years I have spent in service to the people of my beloved hometown.”