Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he was personally consulted before the Maryland Stadium Authority decided to bypass the attorney general's office and hire a private attorney last year.
Speaking at a news conference in front of the State House, Ehrlich said Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos first recommended that the stadium authority hire William H. Murphy, a prominent Baltimore lawyer who is one of the governor's longtime friends and political allies. The governor was informed of the proposed hire.
"Certainly we knew about it," said Ehrlich (R), defending the decision as consistent with past practices.
Ehrlich's comments shed new light on the discussions leading to the stadium authority's decision to spend more than $100,000 on an outside counsel to prepare for litigation with Major League Baseball over the potential arrival of a ballclub in Washington.
The decision to hire an outside attorney for the work -- through a no-bid contract -- has drawn sharp criticism in the past week from Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D). Curran said the authority should have given state lawyers first crack at the work, because they would not charge up to $685 an hour, which is what Murphy's firm billed the authority.
Curran's top deputy said last week that the authority appeared to have ignored a clause in the state's constitution that gives the attorney general's office purview over all litigation to which the state is a party. Curran said yesterday it was appropriate for state auditors to review the decision.
The legal costs also troubled House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who said he believes there are "appropriate questions" for legislative auditors to be asking. He said he expects state auditors to look into the matter.
Ehrlich said he saw nothing wrong with the authority's decision to hire the law firm William H. Murphy Jr. & Associates. He noted that under a Democratic administration in 2000, the authority had paid more than $600,000 to Hogan & Hartson attorney Ralph Tyler, who is now the city solicitor under Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), for outside legal counsel.
"Nobody raised an issue then," Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said it was on Angelos's recommendation that Murphy was retained in November to prepare for possible litigation based on the concern that a Washington team would cut into the Orioles' attendance and thus into revenue at Camden Yards. Part of that revenue goes to the state. The suit was never filed, because Angelos settled his dispute with Major League Baseball.
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.