Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, during his first full day in office yesterday, announced that he will prohibit lawyers in his office from carrying on private, parttime legal practices as more than 20 currently do.
"Practicing law for the state is not only a full-time, but an overtime, job, and... it should be," Sachs said, after a meeting with his staff of about 170 lawyers.
Private practice combined with work as an assistant attornjey general "can lead, even innocently, to the public sense of a conflict of interest," the former federal prosecutor added.
Assistant Attorney General Josef Rosenblatt, who has built a part-time, private practice in commercial law and decided previously to leave the attorney general's office, said he "applauds" the no-private-practice policy, which he believes is the norm in most state legal offices around the country.
"Some people may be upset, but I understand the sense of professionalism he [Sachs] wants to instill," said Rosenblatt.
Sachs' predecessor in the attorney general's office, Francis B. Burch, at one time did some part-time private legal work while in office.
In the past three years, however, Burch instituted a policy that newly hired assistants would be prohibited from engaging in private practice, according to Deputy Attorney General George Nilson. The policy allowed some assistants who already had private practices to continue.
Ransom Davis, another assistant who combined both private and public legal work, pointed out that for attorneys with several years of experience the salary in the attorney general's office was inconsistent with what they could earn in private practices.
The salary range of most assistants -- $18,500 to about $28,000 -- falls short of being competitive with salaries paid by many Baltimore law firms or by the federal government, according to Nilson.
Sachs wants to show he can put together a good office and eliminate private practice among assistants and then go to the legislature and seek higher, more competitive salaries for the staff, according to Associate Deputy Attorney General Eleanor Carey.
The only exception to the new policy will be a number of assistants who handle condemnation cases fort the office around the state and are paid on a part-time basis, according to Sachs. Sachs said he will give assistants, a reasonable amount of time to finish their private practices, but it will "not be many months" before such work is completely eliminated.