On the morning of April 8, David Smith sat in a downtown tower his lawyers had tried to keep him out of. It was there, in a law office on Saint Paul Street, that an attorney for Baltimore City Public Schools would finally get to question Smith, executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group and owner of The Baltimore Sun, about his involvement in a lawsuit against the school system.

Sinclair’s flagship station, Fox45, had reported on the lawsuit extensively without disclosing the link to Smith; a spokesperson for Sinclair would later say Fox45 employees didn’t know Smith was behind it. But the question remained: Was Fox45 covering the news of the lawsuit or was Smith manufacturing it?

School system attorneys subpoenaed Smith in January after it came to light he has been quietly paying attorney’s fees in a case that claims the city school system has “wasted significant sums of money” through “illegal” acts by engaging in a “systemic and continuous history of misrepresenting its enrollment data” to the state. The claims in the lawsuit mirror those made in investigative reports from Fox45. The station regularly airs special segments under the name “Project Baltimore” that are hyper-focused on how the school system is managed.

Now, with Smith under oath, this was the school system’s chance to get long-awaited answers. Only, they didn’t.

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The deposition began at 9:29 a.m., according to court records, and ended a frustration-filled 17 minutes later — “We’ve wasted enough time,” attorney Warren Weaver, who represents the school system, said to Smith and his attorneys as Weaver ended the proceedings. An attorney for Smith objected to 64 questions, ranging from the pertinent to the innocuous, regularly citing the First and 14th amendments as the reason why. A spokesperson for Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

The brevity of Smith’s deposition was matched by its repetitiveness. Almost every query, whether it was about the lawsuit, the company Smith owns that he’s using to pay the attorneys suing city schools, or even his own experiences with the school system (Smith graduated high school from Baltimore City College in 1969) were met with objections.

“Did you have any issues with the education you received in the city school system?” Weaver asked Smith.

“Objection. Don’t answer the question,” Smith’s attorney, Frank Laws, responded.

And so it went. Smith is not actually a party to the lawsuit — the only named plaintiff in the suit is Jovani Patterson, who has a history of being involved in Smith’s pet projects. In his own deposition, Patterson acknowledged that Smith, through his company Election Law Integrity LLC, was paying his legal fees and suggested Smith may have decision-making authority in the case. Smith has financed at least one other lawsuit through Election Law Integrity.

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Patterson, who has run unsuccessfully as a Republican for citywide offices, chairs the Smith-funded People for Elected Accountability and Civic Engagement, a political committee promoting ballot initiatives that would change how the city is run. The group successfully campaigned to implement term limits at City Hall and is now backing another initiative that would reduce the number of City Council seats from 14 to 8.

Patterson, Smith and Election Law Integrity are represented by the same law firm, Thomas & Libowitz, whose attorneys aided Smith in avoiding having to answer any questions about his involvement in the schools case.

For example, Weaver asked Smith if he had any contact with Patterson before he filed his lawsuit, or if he had any contact with the Thomas & Libowitz firm representing Patterson. Smith’s attorney objected to the question and other variations of it.

However, Patterson said in his deposition that Smith himself suggested he meet with attorneys from Thomas & Libowitz and that he, his wife and Smith met with them on at least one occasion before the lawsuit was filed. Patterson’s wife was previously a plaintiff in the case but was removed when it was found she isn’t a city resident.

In an interview outside his home in January, Patterson said Smith encouraged the lawsuit: “We were always looking for different ways to do a lawsuit,” he said.

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Patterson declined to comment about Smith’s involvement when reached by phone Tuesday.

A big spender in Maryland politics — he spent $250,000 trying to elect Sheila Dixon as mayor in the most recent cycle — Smith makes few, if any, public remarks about his views. However, in an initial meeting with The Sun’s newsroom after he purchased the publication in January, Smith decried on the state of city schools and how he felt news organizations could call out what he perceives as their failures to educate.

“As a news organization, you might be able to do something about it by focusing on those people, that class of people, who are products of the Baltimore City school system, who have never had a job,” Smith told staff. “They’re always going to be a product of the government. They’re always going to be on welfare. Always going to be on some structure that the government takes care of. The only way you’re going to fix that is to fix the school system.”

He went on to accuse the school system of “taxpayer fraud,” a claim mirroring that of Patterson’s lawsuit.

“Take any school in Baltimore City and assume this is going on,” he said. “They have kids who are not in class, yet they tell the state government this is how many kids we have in class. And guess what, they get money for that, even though there’s no kids in the class. That’s called fraud last time I looked.”

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School systems are funded based on the number of students they serve, and in Maryland enrollment is determined by how many students are in schools on Sept. 30 each year. A report from the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education found that ghost students — those who are counted as being in attendance, but weren’t there — made up about 0.3% of all city students counted for funding purposes over a five-year period.

Weaver, the school system’s attorney, attempted to contrast the current state of city schools with the conditions Smith encountered as a student in the late 1960s. He asked Smith whether any students in his class were homeless, whether gun violence was an issue. Did any kids come to school hungry? Did they have to work during the day to support a family or speak English as a second language?

The response to each question was the same: objection.