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Baltimore through the eyes of the outgoing city solicitor

Posted at 11:49 AM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-06 17:47:41-05

BALTIMORE — Baltimore City said goodbye to its top lawyer.

City Solicitor Andre M. Davis stepped down last week after nearly two and half years serving as legal counsel to the Mayor, City Council, and Police Department.

Davis, a judge of 30 years on four courts, was initially reluctant to step away from his role as senior judge on the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, a seat he was nominated to by President Barack Obama.

After several attempts, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh convinced him to leave his lifetime appointment and return to his hometown to serve as city solicitor in the fall of 2017.

“The biggest draw for me was the opportunity to work on police reform,” said Davis, who sat down for an interview with WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii at his alma mater, the University of Maryland Carey Law School.

The city had entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice to overhaul the Baltimore Police Department.

“It became ever more apparent to me that this was going to be a very big undertaking for the city, massive change was going to take place one way or the other,” Davis said.

That change turned out to be a seismic upheaval in leadership, starting at the top with the resignation and conviction of former Mayor Pugh for her role in a fraud scheme dealing with her self-published “Healthy Holly” book series.

RELATED: Judge sentences Pugh to three years in federal prison

There was also a rotating door at the police department with four different commissioners and a homicide count that continues to top 300.

“What's it going to take to reform police department?,” asked Sofastaii.

“It's going to take everyone supporting Commissioner Michael Harrison, and I’m going to say that a second time. It's going to take absolute 150 percent support for Commissioner Michael Harrison,” said Davis. “I hope every candidate for mayor, every one of them will say that at some point. I hope they will stand up and say I'm going to support Michael Harrison as police commissioner because he has a plan. If we give him the resources, and the support that he needs to make it work, it will work. I have no doubt about that.”

Davis went on to say that “much of the criticism and efforts to undermine the police commissioner is political. It really doesn't have to do with crime fighting or good government, it's part of the political theater in Baltimore.”

Davis said he’s most proud of his hires: Commissioner Harrison, Baltimore City Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, and lawyers now working for the law department.

Despite trying to keep his role strictly to the city's lawyer, he said he was pulled into a political landscape.

“I was surprised to see the what should we call it, level of friction from time to time between what the law department was urging as the correct approach to a legal problem and the politicization of that problem by certain members of the elected leadership of the city,” said Davis.

A notable moment of friction happened during the contentious debate surrounding non-disparagement agreements following police misconduct settlements, something Davis said the law department had already moved away from.

“Some of the City Council knew full well that the bill [banning gag orders] would achieve nothing. A couple members of the council have told me that and yet, it passed unanimously, because things pass unanimously in the Baltimore City Council when it's politically expedient for that to happen,” Davis said.

There's also unfinished business.

Davis has argued the City shouldn't be liable for paying victims of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force stating the officers acted outside of the scope of their employment.

Lawsuits have been filed against the City seeking damages for the actions of the GTTF, and there could be more. The Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office asked for court approval to vacate nearly 800 convictions tainted by the GTTF.

“It doesn't take a lawsuit for the City to do the right thing. If we lose the lawsuit however, I'm afraid that's going to open the flood gates as lawyers and judges say, and it's going to bring about hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits which the City will be hard-pressed to find the money to take care of,” said Davis.

Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, hasn't yet issued their ruling.

These legal and political battles drained him. In December, Davis announced he would be resigning and he's simply run out of fuel.

“This is not an abandonment, this is an old guy recognizing his limits,” said Davis.

“Are you going to miss it?‬,” asked Sofastaii.

‬”Um, no. I'm going to enjoy watching it from a distance and I will be paying close attention, but I'm not going to miss it,” Davis said. “I've always been the kind of person, I don't look back, you know, I'm looking at what's next, what's next.”

He plans to take a six-month sabbatical and spend much needed time with his eight grandchildren. And when asked why serving as city solicitor in Baltimore has been the most rewarding for him in his career, he said this:

“Our diversity, our resilience, our determination, if we can add integrity to that, be who we are, be who we really are, which are people of integrity, as well as resiliency and commitment, I think we're a great city, we just have to peel back these layers of rust and decay because at our core we are a great American city,” said Davis.

‬”Are you hopeful that will eventually happen?” asked Sofastaii.

“I have no doubt it will. I'm an optimist. You can't but be an optimist when you grow up in East Baltimore. That's the truth,” said Davis.

Davis would not disclose who he's supporting for Mayor and said he's staying out the race, but his message to any elected official or candidate is to “not bargain away your integrity.”

Davis’ name will continue on at City Hall. Inspector General Cumming announced she officially named their new conference room the Judge Andre Davis Conference Room out of respect for him.