By J. K. Schmid, AFRO Baltimore Staff
A Maryland attorney was named in an ethics complaint filed by the Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis Dec. 18.
While the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights’ Civilian Review Board (CRB) has prevailed over the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) and its attorney, Davis, and CRB’s subpoena of BPD case files will now be honored, the struggle for power between the two agencies appears far from over.
Robin Cockey, a Salisbury attorney, has an unblemished 38-year record of practicing law in Maryland, but has been accused by Davis of multiple ethics violations. Cockey took CRB’s case pro bono.
Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis (center), who leads the Civilian Review Board, filed an ethics complaint this week against an attorney who had worked on a case for the CRB. (Photo: Taya Graham)
“I just did this because I thought it was the right thing to do: helping good people in advancing a good cause,” Cockey told the AFRO.
Per Maryland rules, it is illegal to disclose a copy of a complaint to the public before charges are
“By entering his appearance and filing a complaint purporting to represent an entity he may not lawfully represent, Mr. Cockey has made a false statement to the court,” The Sun reports of Davis’s letter of complaint. “I am hopeful that your office will see fit to conduct a thorough investigation of the matters set forth in this complaint as the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore’s interests will be harmed by allowing the unlawful acts evident in the circumstances to go unaddressed.”
With Cockey’s representation, CRB’s case never made it to court. Davis relented November 23, a few weeks after an early November filing. Davis’s left CRB with a warning after the victory that the board and its members may now be held liable if confidential personnel documents leak to the public.
“To my knowledge, I’ve done nothing wrong, and I think most people would agree that the point made by Mr. Davis is a debatable one,” Cockey said.
A call to Davis’s office has not yet been returned.
At issue was BPD’s and Davis’s insistence that CRB sign additional non-disclosure agreements that at least duplicated and then also exceeded state guidelines before BPD would disclose its evidence of officer misconduct.
As to Davis’s mention of “interests,” before CRB attained outside counsel, Davis intended to represent both the BPD and CRB in the dispute.
Independent of the fact that CRB is established by Maryland’s General Assembly and not city charter, it’s unclear how Davis could have moved forward on his own, a conflict of interests was inevitable.
“ set up to exercise oversight, to be a watchdog agency with regards to these law enforcement outfits,” Cockey said. “And therefore, necessarily, it has to have some degree of autonomy, some measure of sovereignty and independence. And where got into this bizarre impasse with the police, it seems to them that the City Solicitor couldn’t represent the police department and the civilian review board anymore than the husband and the wife in a divorce action.”
It is unknown what specific remedy or punishment Davis sought, but Cokey’s Bar Association’s methods of redress run the gamut.
“Discipline could extend from disbarment, which means I can no longer practice law, on down to some sort of knuckle cracking or reprimand events,” Cockey said.
While Cockey holds that Davis’s complaint is debatable rather than actionable, there is real concern that Davis’s complaint for have a chilling effect of other attorneys that might otherwise want to step up and represent CRB.
“I don’t feel this about me, I feel this about the Civilian Review Board’s ability to maintain some degree of independence and to be to some extent a freestanding autonomous decision maker,” Cockey said. “And it’s essential to their function as a watchdog group, if they can’t do that, they can’t succeed. They can’t exercise oversight because they’re beholden to a City Solicitor who controls both them and the police department, so how can there possible be any real oversight in that kind of in-grown scenario?”