Baltimore County Council members said Tuesday that county development chief Arnold Jablon should not have acted as the attorney for a local environmental engineer who has worked for builders on projects in Baltimore County.
Jablon, who worked for the Venable law firm before becoming head of the county's department of permits, approvals and inspections this year, is the lawyer of record in a small-claims case brought in Baltimore County District Court this summer by George Perdikakis. In response to questions from The Baltimore Sun, Jablon said Tuesday that he never intended to do further legal work on the matter.
The case was filed in July, about seven months after Jablon, a former county attorney and zoning commissioner, took office. During his confirmation hearing before the County Council, Jablon said he would maintain a "Chinese wall" of separation between his work as department head and projects that he had represented with the Venable law firm, which frequently works for developers in the county.
Jablon did not say that he would forgo all outside legal work, but several council members said they assumed that he would, and some said they wished he had not filed the case for Perdikakis.
"I'd rather he not be involved in any court cases," said Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., the Democrat who represents the Dundalk area. Olszewski said he was satisfied after talking with the council's lawyer, Tom Peddicord, that Jablon was not planning to be involved in the Perdikakis case any further.
Perdikakis brought the case against a former client he claimed owed him $1,852.50 for services performed on a county project in 2008 and 2009.
Councilman David Marks, a Republican of Perry Hall, said he assumed when the council confirmed Jablon for the post that he would "not practice any law related to any aspect of development in the county." He said he felt Jablon's involvement in the Perdikakis lawsuit crosses that line because of Perdikakis' role as consultant in development projects.
Councilman Todd Huff, a Republican from Lutherville, said he was not troubled by Jablon's role in the lawsuit because he was not representing a client in pursuit of a building permit or other approval.
Jablon said Tuesday that about three years ago Perdikakis and his wife, Zoe, whom he described as personal friends, asked him about filing a claim against a client that allegedly owes money to Perdikakis' now-defunct consulting firm GGP & Associated LLP. They did not pursue the claim at that time.
This summer, however, as their deadline under the statute of limitations was approaching, Jablon said he felt obliged to warn them that if they did not file soon, they would lose their right to make the claim.
Jablon said he agreed to file the complaint but with the understanding that once it goes to trial Perdikakis would have to hire another lawyer. Jablon said he agreed to do the work for no fee.
The case is scheduled for trial in February, and Jablon said he will not be involved. Perdikakis did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said through a spokeswoman that he talked with Jablon on Tuesday about the Perdikakis case. Jablon said he would bow out of it, and Kamenetz "feels that's the right decision," said spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.
Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said he talked with Kamenetz's chief of staff, Don Mohler, about this on Tuesday, and agreed it was best that Jablon not represent Perdikakis.
"In hindsight," Quirk said, "it's probably better if [Jablon] hadn't filed the case" for Perdikakis. "He would acknowledge he should have had another attorney do it."