In September, six months after the death of Freddie Gray, the city of Baltimore settled a wrongful death suit with Gray’s family for $6.4 million. The city doesn’t write a check immediately after the decision; The Board of Estimates and then The City Council has to approve the spending. We previously reported that the family is supposed to be paid $2.8 million this fiscal year while $3.6 million will be paid to them next fiscal year beginning in July.
With less than three weeks left in 2015, the Gray family might not see their money before the holidays because of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Within the $6.4 million spending bill, Rawlings-Blake also added a $2 million expenditure for a Washington, DC law firm to represent the city during a federal investigation of the Police Department.
The City Council is not opposed to paying Gray’s family, they are however expected to reject the bill because they believe the cost of outside council is egregious. “…The $2 million [in outside legal fees] leaves a bad taste in my mouth” said City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger. “Either it’s two separate bills or it’s going nowhere.”
The City Council President, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, believes Rawling’s request for outside council has an underlined ulterior motive. “We have concerns. We called in the Justice Department to implement changes, not to fight against what they’re recommending,” said Young.
The Board of Estimates voted 4-1 to pay the lawyers of DC based firm, WilmerHal between $400 to $800 an hour; for a total of $2 million over a 14-month period. But this proposal has to be approved by the City Council as it is an amendment to their current budget.
A spokesman for the Mayor, Howard Libit, said Young was fully aware of the cost associated with hiring the firm. “We hope they will understand these are well-spent legal dollars and they will come around to making the right decision for our city. The responsible thing for the council to do is fulfill the city’s obligations” said Libit.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Rawlings-Blake believes based on the severity of the Freddie Gray case and the Justice Department’s probe, the city can’t afford to be frugal when they need to be meticulous. She said the city’s approximately 10 lawyers aren’t equipped to adequately handle the demands of the investigation.
“We want to make sure we get this right for the city of Baltimore, and that doesn’t mean doing it on the cheap,” said Rawlings-Blake.