Jim Shea, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s nominee to be the city’s next solicitor, is one step closer to being confirmed for the job following a unanimous vote by Baltimore City Council’s Rules and Government Oversight Committee on Thursday.
Shea, the former chairman emeritus of the Venable law firm and a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, has been working for the city in an acting capacity since January. He will next face two votes from City Council’s full 15-member body.
If Thursday’s hearing is any indication, Shea has the support of much of the board. Several members of the City Council were effusive in their praise for the attorney who is also the former chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
“I’m thrilled you’ve been appointed to be solicitor of the city. I could not think of someone better in terms of integrity, intellect and capacity,” said Councilman Eric Costello, one of seven members of the committee who voted in favor of Shea’s appointment.
Shea also had the support Thursday of former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who appeared at the virtual meeting to introduce him to the committee.
“I know how important it is for the citizens to have an outstanding lawyer in that job, and Jim Shea certainly is an outstanding attorney,” Schmoke said.
Baltimore’s solicitor holds a critical position in the city’s hierarchy. The solicitor defends Baltimore in court and brings lawsuits on behalf of its residents. The law office also controls high-dollar legal settlements, which have been numerous in recent years for Baltimore. More than a dozen lawsuits related to the Baltimore Police Department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force were settled during Shea’s predecessor’s tenure at a cost of more than $13 million.
Shea replaced acting Solicitor Dana Moore who became the city’s chief equity officer after Scott took office in December.
The city’s top lawyer also sits on the Board of Estimates, one of three votes controlled by the mayor on the board, which approves all of the city’s contractual spending. Shea has already joined the board as he serves the city in an acting capacity.
On Wednesday, Shea pledged to represent the city as a whole, including the City Council and Baltimore’s agencies, not just the mayor, who is responsible for his selection. He also outlined goals to recruit a more diverse group of lawyers in the city’s Law Department, to partner with city policymakers to promote transparency and to provide prompt legal advice — in plain English.
“You set the policy, but we are to enable you to do it,” he said.
Councilwoman Odette Ramos, a freshman member of the board who has already been forced to withdraw two proposed pieces of legislation upon receiving advice that they are not legally within City Council’s purview, urged Shea to offer advice on alternative legislative avenues rather than just telling the board when something isn’t possible.
“I do hope that moving forward we can have that kind of dialogue, where there may be some alternative and not just, ‘No you can’t do that,’” Ramos said.
Councilman Robert Stokes told Shea he would like to see the city’s Law Department move faster, particularly when interacting with city residents to resolve disputes where the city is at fault. Stokes cited a case where the Baltimore Police mistakenly raided a woman’s home, damaging her door. It took the city three years to pay her back, he said.
“A lot of times they seem to be not friendly to the community,” Stokes said of the Law Department.
Shea is best known within the legal community after leading Maryland’s largest law firm for decades. During that time, he chaired the University System of Maryland Board of Regents where he oversaw Maryland’s public colleges and universities. He said Thursday that that role prepared him to offer legal advice to competing branches of government as he would need to in Baltimore.
Shea also previously chaired the Empower Baltimore Management Corp., which provided job training and money to small businesses in East and West Baltimore.
Born in the city, Shea went to Baltimore County schools before attending the elite Andover Academy in Massachusetts, where he was classmates with Jeb Bush, later Republican governor of Florida, and Andre Davis, later city solicitor for Baltimore in the administrations of Catherine Pugh and Bernard C. “Jack” Young. He is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Virginia School of Law.
The solicitor’s salary is set by the city charter at $188,000.
Shea previously lived in Owings Mills. Baltimore’s solicitor is required to live in the city, and Shea told The Baltimore Sun in December that he planned to move to a Harbor East condominium he already owned.