Legal work raises questions about the meaning of law governing outside employment for the county executive
By Bryan P. Sears
In the year after Kevin Kamenetz took office, the Baltimore County executive continued to do some legal work, according to a review of county and state records.
The work refocuses attention on language in the Baltimore County Charter that requires the executive to “devote his full time to the duties of the office.”
A county spokesman said Tuesday that the law would allow a county executive to hold outside employment so long as he works at least a 40-hour work week for the county.
“The county executive is not practicing law,” said Don Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff. “Being county executive is more than a full time job.”
Still, Mohler argued that the law would allow a county executive, if he so chose, to hold other employment, such as working on a farm, helping a spouse with a boutique or restaurant or writing a book.
But the intent of the language, written in the County Charter in 1956, is not clear.
Even the current county attorney has made conflicting interpretations about the meaning of the words “full time” in the last 11 months.
Baltimore County attorney Michael Field said Wednesday that he now believes the law allows a county executive to hold outside employment, but acknowledged there is no case law to back up the position.
“What does ‘full time’ employment mean?” Field said. “I absolutely don’t know for sure what it means.”
Legal Work Continues
Kamenetz reported earning an undisclosed amount of money related to his law practice, according to a review of his financial disclosure form filed in May with the Baltimore County Ethics Commission.
A review of court records shows that Kamenetz was one of the attorneys of record in a divorce case filed by a Catonsville couple in September 2011—nearly 10 months after Kamenetz was sworn in as county executive.
Kamenetz represented a Catonsville man in a case that is only remarkable because the couple had already lived apart for two years before the case was filed. The couple had agreed to the every aspect of the dissolution of the union before they filed in court, according to a review of the case file at the Baltimore County Circuit Court.
A number of lawyers told Patch that the details of the case did not suggest that a high level of special skills were needed to resolve the matter.
Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff, said Wednesday that the county executive represented the man prior to being sworn into office.
“[Kamenetz] has said all along that he would not accept new clients and would only handle those cases which he could not transfer to another attorney without damaging the client,” Mohler said.
Questions about the fate of Kamenetz’s law practice first arose in January 2011 after Patch inquired about 16 open civil cases in which the county executive was listed as the attorney of record.
Mohler said then that Kamenetz was winding down his practice, and providing services only to those clients who could not find another lawyer, or who could not be transferred without damaging their cases.
Kamenetz gave up the lease to his Towson law office. However, he still maintains the phone number associated with that office. Calls to the number go to the Towson office of Charles Gilman, a personal injury attorney.
A woman who answered the phone at the office said Kamenetz was county executive and did not actually work there. She described Kamenetz as being “of counsel” with the firm and said he refers work to the office.
Kamenetz also maintains a post office box that he uses on his law office letterhead in letters filed in the 2011 divorce case. The most recent letter was written in February.
Mohler maintains that Kamenetz does not have outside employment but “if a client were to come back and [Kamenetz] could quickly do something, he would do that, and not put the client at risk.
Mohler said his comments were based on a common 40-hour per week definition of “full time.”
Defining ‘Full Time’
But not everyone agrees on that interpretation. Even Field, the current county attorney, has made conflicting statements in the last year on the meaning of the County Charter.
In an interview last year, Jay Liner, a former county attorney under then-County Executive Jim Smith, said the law was “clear and unambiguous” in its intent that a county executive not have any outside employment.
Liner’s statement is supported by Field, the current county attorney, in a letter written to the Maryland State Ethics Commission in August of last year.
The letter, obtained under a Maryland Public Information Act request, discusses proposed changes to the county ethics laws. One of those changes dealt with prohibitions on employment.
Field wrote that he was applying certain prohibitions to employment “only to members of the County Council and not the county executive. This is because the County Charter prohibits the executive from having another job.”
In an interview Wednesday, Field said he now holds a different interpretation of the law.
“I would say now that I over-read the charter from looking at it again,” Field said. “It says ‘full time,’ it doesn’t say he can’t have other work.”
Field said he believes the phrase is meant to denote a 40-hour work week only.
He acknowledged though, that there was no case law or opinion from the Baltimore County Ethics Commission on the subject and that the notes from the group that wrote the charter are silent on this issue.
“It’s just not defined anywhere,” Field said.
“I’m not certain it’s something any attorney can answer,” Field said, adding that a court might have to settle it.
“Until it’s tried somewhere, how do you know?” said Field. “I don’t even know how you would try this one.”