Law Department/City Solicitor
Legal Advice to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore
Probably the least explored aspect of the public history of Baltimore City is its interaction with the law and the courts. From its creation as a municipality, Baltimore has been before the courts as plaintiff and defendant. The volume of extant case material relating to the city and its citizens is enormous (well over 5,000 cubic feet at the Maryland State Archives and in the Law Department files of the Baltimore City Archives). To make effective research use of the court records with regard to the City’s public history and the interaction of individuals with the City, the first step is to understand where the extant legal files of the city reside and how to access the court records.
To learn about the evolution of the Law Department of Baltimore City, please the description of the in the Guide to the Baltimore City Archives, RG 13.
The records of the Law Department/City Solicitor are located in BRG13. What follows are details for some of the more generally useful series in this record group.
City Counselor Files (Series 3):
The records of the City Counselor prior to 1900 have been digitized and are available in BRG 13-3, “HRS Indexed Records. 1819-64.”
Opinions of the City Solicitor (Series 1):
These records contain official opinions representing professional decisions or advice rendered. These records have been digitized and are available on the Guide at BRG13-1.
For an index of these opinions:
- 1903-1931: An Index to the Opinions of the City Solicitor of the City of Baltimore, 1903-1931 (3 vols. Charles Pielert and Horace Flack, compilers)
- 1931-1963: Index to the Opinions of the City Solicitor of Baltimore, 1931-1963, compiled by Carl N. Everstine
The best introduction to the history of the office of City Solicitor, which produced a number of distinguished jurists and politicians is found in:
Stieff, Frederick Philip, comp. The Government of a Great American City . Baltimore: H. G. Roebuck & Son, 1935. Chapter V. City Solicitor by Simon E. Sobeloff
Case File Dockets (Series 11):
For the period after 1900, the nearly 2,000 cubic feet of the Law Department/City Solicitor’s working files are accessed by dockets and indexes, both of which are incomplete as to the contents of the working files.
The case file dockets include case file number (useful for finding case files inBRG13-2), name of plaintiff and defendant, court of hearing, date, amount claimed, nature of actions, and disposition of case. There is a name index in front of each volume, which seems to contain both the plaintiff and defendant. The dockets are digized and available online at BRG13-11.
Case Files (Series 2):
These records include notes, memos, opinions, plats, correspondence, reports, and miscellaneous materials relating to court cases. These records are currently in the process of being inventoried, and are located at BRG13-2.
An index of the files from 1919-1934 is digitized and located at BRG13-15.
Maryland State Archives Records:
Annual Reports of the City Solicitor
The published annual reports of the City Solicitor provide helpful insight into the work of the City’s law department.
A sample of the Annual reports which are cataloged in the Government Publications database of the Maryland State Archives includes:
Annual Report 1904 from:
Maryland State Archives (Government Publications) BALTIMORE CITY SOLICITOR (Annual Report) 1904 in BC Annual Reports 1903 1904/07/01 Accession Number: MdHR 821713, Location: 2/9/11/48, MU919
Short Citation: Maryland State Archives (Government Publications)MU919, pp. …
Annual Report 1912 from:
MARYLAND STATE ARCHIVES (Government Publications) BALTIMORE CITY LAW DEPARTMENT (Report) 1912-1915 in BC Annual Reports 1915 1916/08/11 Accession Number: MdHR 821862, Location: 2/9/11/52, MU2278
short citation: Maryland State Archives (Government Publications) MU2278, pp. …
Annual Report 1928/29-version 1 BCA RG 13-2-53429
Annual Report 1928/29-version 2 BCA RG 13-2-53429
Legal Cases Involving Baltimore City
With regard to the extant court records relating to Baltimore City, reference should be made to the search capabilities of Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw. There cases that involved the City that made there way to the Court of Appeals and beyond are easily located. By examining the Court of Appeals cases and searching for the underlying lower court files through the Maryland State Archives Guide to Government Records, and the Archives of Maryland On Line volumes, the researcher is provided with comprehensive insight into the workings of the court system and what detailed records have survived.
Until 1851 and Constitutional reform, Baltimore City court files are to be found among the papers and records of Baltimore County. In searching for court records relating to the city prior to 1851, the WPA/Historical Records Survey Inventory of Court Papers that were left behind when the Baltimore County Court removed to Towson, should be consulted. After 1851, through 1892, the Historical Records Survey also inventoried the Baltimore City Superior Court.
- BALTIMORE COUNTY COURT (Miscellaneous Court Papers, Index) 1729-1851: MSA C 220. The digitized indexes are available at MSA CE 19
- BALTIMORE CITY SUPERIOR COURT (Miscellaneous Court Papers, Index) 1852-1892: MSA C 2144. The digitized indexes are available at MSA CE 20
Hay v. Conner
An example of the level of illustrative detail that can be found in all the surviving court papers related to a case is Hay v. Conner involving a mulatto male slave called James Perry.
Dates: 1800-1814 Description: Analysis of Cases in the Maryland Court of Appeals relating to Baltimore City taken from a search of Lexis/Nexis
Another prime example of what can be found by searching for all of the court proceedings relating to a case is the wealth of detail relating to the public history of Baltimore in the last major case to be decided by Chief Justice John Marshall, Barron v. Baltimore .