A judge appointed a lawyer on Thursday to represent the interests of Peter Angelos, who has been incapacitated by illness as his family fights over control of his assets, the Baltimore Orioles and his legendary law firm among them.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Keith R. Truffer also moved to avoid a threat by Wells Fargo to freeze the Angelos law firm’s accounts because of the family dispute over the ownership and management of the practice, known for winning billions of dollars on behalf of asbestos and tobacco victims.
But the judged saved for another day decisions on other requests from lawyers, including whether the law firm should be placed under a temporary conservator.
Truffer appointed Benjamin Rosenberg, founder and chairman of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg in Baltimore, to represent Angelos in the legal proceedings that have his wife, Georgia, and elder son John, the Orioles chairman and CEO, on one side facing off against younger son Louis on the other.
Georgia Angelos, 80, waited in a courthouse hallway, expecting to be called to testify at the hearing, but Truffer determined that would be unnecessary. Louis Angelos, 53, who has been managing his father’s law firm, sat in the courtroom with his attorneys. John Angelos, 55, was not seen in the courtroom.
For all of Peter Angelos’ prominence in legal, political, philanthropic and sports circles, he and his family have largely shunned the spotlight that they now find themselves in.
“This family has always been a very private family,” Jeffrey E. Nusinov, who represents Louis Angelos, noted at one point during the hearing.
At issue was the fate of the Angelos law firm, with the litigation raising concerns at Wells Fargo, its longtime banker, over who was in charge and authorized to access funds in the practice’s 11 bank accounts.
Peter Angelos, who started practicing law in the 1960s, had long been the sole partner and shareholder of the firm. In June, Louis Angelos transferred the firm to himself, signing both sides of the transaction. He ha argued that because of his father’s disability, state law required ownership of the practice to be moved to a qualified person and, as the only lawyer among Peter Angelos’ immediate family, that was him.
Lawyers for Georgia Angelos, however, characterized the transaction as self-dealing and theft and filed suit in August on her behalf against Louis Angelos, alleging “financial elder abuse” of his father.
“It’s like Lamar Jackson has a great game,” said Doug Gansler, one of Georgia Angelos’ attorneys, going on to imagine the Ravens quarterback then saying, “‘I’m now going to sell the team to myself.’
“That’s not how it works,” said Gansler, a former state attorney general and two-time Democratic candidate for governor.
Gansler asked Truffer to put the firm under conservatorship until its ownership is settled. He noted that despite Peter Angelos’ incapacity, checks were still being signed with his stamp, even one last month for $500,000.
Nusinov argued that there was no need for a conservator with Louis Angelos having managed the firm for the past four years since his father’s illness. The issue was “concocted,” he said, by the other side using the law firm as leverage in the legal battle.
Georgia Angelos’ lawyers had written Wells Fargo to inform them of the dispute over the law firm and say that she was her husband’s attorney-in-fact and the only one authorized to act on his behalf.
Mary Zinsner, representing Wells Fargo, told Truffer that the bank was neutral in the family dispute but needed clarity on who had authority to sign checks.
“We need to know who to contact,” Zinsner said, particularly in the event of an issue with a particular check or account.
Truffer agreed to name three people suggested by Louis Angelos to be authorized to sign checks on the law firm’s bank accounts. The signatories were not named it court after Zinsner said making them public would raise security concerns.
It’s unknown if Louis Angelos was one of the three, with attorneys for his mother arguing he be excluded as having a conflict of interest given his lawsuit against his family members.
Louis Angelos, a day after transferring the law firm to himself, sued his mother and brother, saying John Angelos was seeking to consolidate control over the Orioles and his father’s other assets. He is seeking to have them removed as trustees from his father’s trust, into which Peter Angelos’ share of the Orioles has been transferred.
The litigation revealed that Georgia Angelos has been preparing for a future sale of the team, and that she wants to wind down or sell her husband’s law firm.
In appointing Rosenberg to represent Angelos, Truffer acknowledged the central — though silent — role the incapacitated team owner and lawyer has been playing in the family fight.
“Every discussion, every pleading, every email addresses one or another of Mr. Angelos’ assets,” Truffer said. “I do think it’s important to have Mr. Angelos made a party to this case.”
Rosenberg is a longtime litigator who has served on several judicial commissions, according to his firm’s website. He notes there that he formerly co-chaired the Equal Justice Council of the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland, playing “a small part in ensuring that the phrase ‘Equal Justice for All’ is not an empty slogan.”
The judge also agreed to seal certain filings that deal with confidential financial information, as well as details about Peter Angelos’ health.
Truffer will hold another hearing on Nov. 9 to consider a range of issues, including Georgia Angelos’ request he invalidate Louis Angelos’ sale of the law firm to himself.
A trial has been scheduled for July, but the family members have agreed to try mediation.