Bankers are considering freezing the accounts of the law firm of Peter Angelos, which would jeopardize the famous Baltimore firm’s ability to pay settlements, its employees, and even carry on with business, attorneys told a Baltimore County judge Wednesday.
“I’m very concerned Wells [Fargo] is going to freeze its accounts and we’re going to have a catastrophe,” attorney A. Joseph Jay III told the judge.
He sought an emergency order from the judge to appoint someone to run the firm as the health of Peter Angelos, 93, worsens.
The disclosure of financial risk facing one of Baltimore’s most prominent law firms came Wednesday afternoon during the first hearing in a legal fight between the sons of Peter Angelos. John and Louis Angelos are battling over their father’s firm, his stake in the Baltimore Orioles and the family fortune.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Keith Truffer set a hearing for next month for the sides to try and identify someone to run the firm and restore the confidence of its bankers while their fight continues.
Jay, an attorney for Peter’s wife, Georgia Angelos, asked the courts that she be allowed to select a managing partner for the firm. But attorneys for his son, Louis, argued against the move and downplayed concerns that the firm was in danger.
They noted Louis Angelos, the only other licensed attorney in the family, has been running the firm since his father collapsed due to heart trouble in late 2017.
“They are determined to dissolve the law firm,” Louis’ attorney Paul Raschke told the judge. “That is completely contrary to Peter’s intent.”
Outside the courtroom, attorneys for Georgia Angelos declined to comment further.
The legal fight between John and Louis Angelos has brought forth dueling lawsuits and allegations of power grabs, manipulations and even elder abuse. Hundreds of pages of court documents have pulled back the curtain on one of Baltimore’s most prominent and private families.
In the latest pleadings, attorneys for Louis Angelos write that his brother wants to cash out of the family’s assets by selling the law firm, their stake in the Orioles and their commercial office buildings.
“John became obsessed with the idea of hoarding wealth,” attorneys for Louis wrote. “As one who created wealth his entire life, Mr. [Peter] Angelos was not crazed, as John was, with the prospect of losing it, or obsessed, like John, with hoarding it.”
The judge set the case for a monthlong jury trial in July 2023. Attorneys informed the court of their plans to call witnesses including experts in the ethics of law, finance and psychology. Until trial, the brothers are assigned to try and resolve matters with mediation monitored by the court.
Meanwhile, the judge urged attorneys on both sides to show restraint in their pleadings.
“There has been some pretty warm rhetoric,” Truffer told them. “Let’s try to tone that down a bit. ... After a while, I get tired of wading through the harsh back and forth of it.”
Recent court filings include text messages and emails between the brothers that show their relationship crumbling. John writes that the family assets are becoming an increasing financial burden. He repeatedly accuses Louis of dragging his feet on decisions, therefore risking the empire their father built.
“We have been and are needlessly and foolishly playing Russian roulette with our inheritance and future,” John wrote his brother in October 2019.
The case made a splash in Baltimore in June when Louis Angelos filed a lawsuit against his older brother and mother. He accused John Angelos of grabbing control of the Orioles and the family’s commercial real estate against their father’s wishes that the sons equally share his fortune. Louis further alleged that John manipulated and intimidated their 80-year-old mother into helping him carry out the power grab.
He accused his brother of scheming with the family lawyer to transfer $90 million worth of their father’s properties and interests into a company that John controls. Louis asked the courts to remove the assets from John’s company and to block his brother from taking any action on their father’s law firm, the family trusts and the Orioles.
“John intends to maintain absolute control over the Orioles — to manage, to sell, or, if he chooses, to move to Tennessee (where he has a home and where his wife’s career is headquartered) — without having to answer to anyone,” Louis’ attorneys wrote in court documents.
His claims alarmed baseball fans who feared the Orioles might leave Baltimore and prompted a swift public statement from John that the family had no such plans.
“As I have said before, as long as Fort McHenry is standing watch over the Inner Harbor, the Orioles will remain in Baltimore,” John said in a statement the Orioles issued.
The fight escalated in August when their mother, Georgia Angelos, filed a lawsuit against Louis over his move to seize control of his father’s law firm. According to her lawsuit, Louis sold the firm to himself for a price to be determined by an independent appraiser, someone Louis himself would hire. The money wasn’t due for 15 years.
“It is unlikely Georgia or Peter will ever see a dime of money from Lou,” her attorneys wrote in her lawsuit.
She has asked the courts to reverse the sale, strip Louis of any authority over his father’s assets and fine him more than $75,000 under state laws intended to help vulnerable, older adults in Maryland recover money lost to exploitation. Her lawyers wrote that Louis’ actions amount to elder abuse.
“The only small blessing is that Peter lacks the capacity to understand this betrayal,” they wrote in her lawsuit.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Louis answered by saying he was forced to take action because his father’s disability would cause Peter Angelos to be barred from practicing law, jeopardizing the firm and its clients.
Subsequent court records reveal the brothers’ power struggle over the Orioles. When Peter Angelos collapsed because of heart trouble, John stepped in to oversee the team.
Court records filed by Georgia’s attorneys credit John with hiring general manager Mike Elias and leading with a hands-off strategy that resulted in the winning record this season.
“John proved to be a highly capable CEO,” her attorneys wrote. “John’s management style is diametrically different from his father’s. While Peter was a one-man show who disliked formal management structures and relied primarily on his own judgment, John is the opposite. John has recruited a team of veteran executives to serve on the Senior Leadership Team for BOLP [Baltimore Orioles Limited Partnership] with the express purpose of advising John and helping guide the team to success.”
The court documents repeatedly make reference to the family’s interest in selling at least some of their stake in the Orioles. Georgia’s lawyers wrote that John hired investment bankers to prepare the financial information on the team for possible buyers.
The Maryland Stadium Authority has said it continues to negotiate the renewal of its lease with the team. The Orioles’ original lease was set to expire at the end of 2021, but the team signed a two-year extension through the end of 2023. The team can make a one-time, 5-year extension by Feb. 1, 2023.
Attorneys for Georgia wrote that her husband did not believe the Angelos should own the Orioles forever.
“Although Peter felt the Orioles should be sold on his death so Georgia could enjoy the great wealth they had amassed together, he felt that decision was ultimately Georgia’s to make.”