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Bill would let sheriff's deputies practice law

March 31, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Maj. Sam Billotti of the Washington County Sheriff's Office is pictured in 2007. Billotti is qualified to be a lawyer, but current Maryland law doesn't allow him to do both jobs at once.
File photo

ANNAPOLIS — Maj. Sam Billotti of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is qualified to be a lawyer, but Maryland won’t let him do both jobs at once.

Billotti has a law degree and has been admitted to the Maryland bar.

However, state law prohibits sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, among others, from practicing law.

A bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly seeks to help Billotti and others like him. It would let a sheriff or deputy sheriff work in one county and practice law in any other in the state.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll/Frederick, co-sponsored the bill.

Brinkley presented the bill to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week.

The Caroline County Commissioners submitted a letter opposing the bill, arguing that sheriffs and deputies shouldn’t be allowed to practice criminal law.

As of Wednesday, with less than two weeks left in this year’s 90-day legislative session, the Judicial Proceedings Committee hadn’t taken any action on the measure.

Billotti, who will turn 48 on April 28, said he isn’t interested in having a bustling, lucrative law practice.

Rather, he hopes to be there if someone needs an advocate.

“I want to be able to help people when they come to me,” he said.

He envisions, at some point, setting up a small office at his father-in-law’s electrical business in Middletown, Md.

He also would like to work for Legal Aid, which represents low-income clients at no charge.

A fairly recent example of need convinced him to ask Brinkley if the state law could be changed.

A deputy asked Billotti for his help drafting a will for the deputy’s dying wife. Because of state law, Billotti couldn’t step in. He said the woman died without a will.

Maryland law prohibits people who hold certain jobs from practicing law at the same time, including sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, jail superintendents and deputy superintendents, wardens and deputy wardens, bailiffs, clerks and deputy clerks of courts, registers and deputy registers of wills, and officers and employees of juvenile courts.

However, Billotti noted that the law doesn’t prevent police officers or state troopers from being lawyers. He said he knows of a few who are.

Billotti retired from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office in 2006 after 20 years there.

A short time later, he joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

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Billotti said he earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2002.

He isn’t sure how much longer he’ll stay in police work, but guessed that it would be less than a decade.

“Police work is a young person’s game,” he said.

Editor's note: This story was edited March 31, 2011, to correct the year of Billotti's retirement from the Frederick County Sheriff's Office.

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