City loses suit against former mayoral candidate's wife

The city of Baltimore has lost its case against the wife of former mayoral candidate Otis Rolley, who it claimed owed the city $26,100 for taking months of paid leave she hadn't earned while working for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Charline Rolley said Thursday that the victory is "bittersweet, but definitely a weight off my shoulders."

City Solicitor George Nilson said in a statement that taxpayers will now be left footing the bill.

The city had sued Rolley for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and asked the court to force her to repay the city for the salary she earned while on paid leave to give birth, take care of her sick infant and work on her husband's campaign.

Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon found no legal basis for the breach-of-contract claim Wednesday, and a jury found there was no unjust enrichment in the case Thursday, said Andrew Freeman and Brooke Lierman, Rolley's attorneys in the case.

At one point, the jury asked whether they could award Rolley damages, even though she hadn't requested any, Freeman said. No damages were awarded.

"It was a case we thought never should have been brought," Freeman said.

The discrepancy was due to a computer glitch, which credited Rolley for sick leave and vacation time she earned as a special assistant from 2000 to 2007 to then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. She'd been paid for that time when she left the job.

The city claimed Rolley should have noticed the error, and that its administrative manual states that employees should be responsible for monitoring their leave. It also disputed $22,000 in health benefits that Rolley collected.

Rolley and her attorneys said the city was at fault for the error and that she was targeted because of her husband's decision to run against Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2011. City human resources employees had confirmed the leave to Rolley before she took it, Rolley and her attorneys said.

"This was a classic case of the city messing up and then trying to blame someone else, and it was particularly unfortunate that the person they tried to blame was someone who had worked long and hard for the city," Freeman said. "And it was troubling that the city put all these efforts into pursuing a meritless claim against Mrs. Rolley after her husband ran against the mayor."

Nilson said in his statement that the city treated the case as it would have any other.

"The City handled this case as it would any other case of payroll abuse," Nilson said. "Like many large organizations, the City is susceptible to payroll irregularities and we take them seriously and try to recover funds whenever possible. Unfortunately in this case, the taxpayers are paying for the unearned leave."

The mayor's office pointed to the city inspector general's report on the case, which included a transcript in which Rolley acknowledged some fault for not noticing the leave error.

"The inspector general's report speaks for itself," said Ryan O'Doherty, a mayoral spokesman.

Rolley, who was Young's director of community outreach and constituent services, said she worked throughout her leave despite being at home with her daughter, earning the salary under dispute.

"I was a chief strategist for the president, I hired the majority of people in his office, and there was a lot at stake," she said. "He had an election to win the following year. I couldn't stop working, and I didn't."

Young declined to comment through an aide, deferring comment to Nilson.

Rolley, who now works for UPD Consulting, an education consulting firm, said she feels "vindicated" by the judge and jury but still laments the damage the case has done to her reputation.

"I had built up a really good reputation, apart from my husband, and I just think they smeared my name a little bit," she said. "I definitely feel I was targeted. It's just no secret that that's what was happening."

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