Maryland Attorney General and MSBA member Brian Frosh met with the MSBA’s Business Law Section at its February 4, 2021 meeting to discuss the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and its relationship with the business community. The meeting, hosted by Section Council Chair A. Howard Stern, included opening remarks from the Attorney General and a question and answer session that allowed attendees to put their questions directly to him.
Attorney General Frosh started by confirming a report from the morning’s New York Times that McKinsey & Company had agreed to pay $573 million to 47 states in settlement of claims arising from the firm’s role in the Purdue Pharma OxyContin scandal. Maryland is expected to receive $12 million of that total. In response to a question, Mr. Frosh said that the State would use its share of the proceeds for addiction prevention and to provide services to individuals already suffering from it.
Describing the OAG’s relationship with the business community, the Attorney General acknowledged that their interactions most often occur in connection with the Office’s responsibility to enforce State laws regulating commerce. He stressed that the OAG’s enforcement activities are not intended solely to hold wrongdoers accountable; they also seek to protect businesses from unfair competition. He said that the OAG, which fields 30,000 complaints annually, will not permit businesses to gain an advantage over competitors by breaking the law. The Attorney General provided details on some cases that his office has pursued successfully, independently or in concert with other states, that included taking down a $190 million charity scam; shuttering an assisted living facility that physically and financially abused its residents, and had to pay a $2.2 million fine as result; and a local moving company that was hit with a $500,000 fine for its predatory trade practices.
Attorney General Frosh also discussed his recent focus on access to justice for those most affected by the ongoing pandemic. Early in the COVID-19 crisis, he recognized that nobody in government was addressing COVID’s disproportionate impact on people of color, the poor, and the disabled. In June 2020, the Attorney General partnered with the Maryland Access to Justice Commission to form the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force to develop strategies and propose solutions to address the legal challenges being faced by Marylanders as a result of the pandemic. The Task Force, which released its Final Report in January, brought together members of the Maryland Legislature and the Judiciary, attorneys, business leaders, charitable foundations, advocacy groups, and others to study these issues. Together they made 59 recommendations to help ensure that Maryland citizens are housed safely, remain financially secure, are free from hunger, and have meaningful access to the civil justice system.
The Attorney General highlighted one recommendation that he said was intended to avert a looming eviction crisis and fix a flaw in landlord-tenant law that predated COVID. He explained that pre-pandemic, the State’s 80% annual eviction filing rate (meaning that 80 failure to pay rent cases seeking eviction are filed for every 100 available rental units) is one of the highest in the nation. Some of the State’s larger jurisdictions, like Baltimore City and Baltimore County, have filing rates in excess of 100%. The four other mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia, in contrast, have rates ranging from a low of 5.3% (Pennsylvania) to a high of 16.9% (Delaware).
The reason for this discrepancy, the Task Force concluded, is that the filing fee for a failure to pay rent action in Maryland is $15 (compared to a national average of $122), a cost that can be passed on to the tenant. The Task Force has recommended that the filing fee be raised to $120, and that landlords be prohibited from collecting it from their tenants, even if successful in court. The Attorney General predicts that this change would drastically lower the number of failure to pay rent filings in Maryland and generate millions of dollars that would be available to fund legal aid and other civil legal service providers.
Attorney General Frosh then took questions from Section members, ranging from his participation in the Emoluments Clause litigation against the former president, to efforts of the National Rifle Association to evade the jurisdiction of New York courts, before yielding to the Section’s regular business meeting. A video of the Attorney’s General’s remarks and the question and answer session can be viewed here.