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The Nose

Justice of the Peace

Jefferson Jackson Steele
lee douglas (center) with rod rosenstein (left) and ron shapiro.

Posted 1/27/2010

The Nose recently attended a jovial gathering at the Center Club, an invitation-only business dining club on the 16th floor of the former Legg Mason building in downtown Baltimore. A coterie of men and women in business suits listened as attorney Larry Gibson, former campaign manager for erstwhile mayor Kurt Schmoke, stood at a podium and encouraged attendees to call out "one word" that best described Lee Douglas, the man in whose honor everyone had gathered. (A sampling of responses to Gibson's request, by the way: "ambassador," "unflappable," "teacher," "trustworthy.")

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein was there, as were commercial real estate broker Robert Manekin, sports agent/attorney Ron Shapiro, attorney Stephen Miles (formerly of the firm Saiontz, Kirk, and Miles, now with his own firm, the Law Offices of Stephen L. Miles), president of Landmark Parking Greg Hatfield, and a whole host of attorneys from various downtown firms.

"From now on, we'll call ourselves the FOL," Shapiro told the festive crew. "The Friends of Lee."

On Jan. 27, Douglas is retiring from the job he held for 35 years--not from a law firm or a real-estate brokerage, but from the garage at 36 S. Charles St., where he was the manager of the parking garage. Manekin, whose namesake company owns 36 S. Charles, tells the Nose that over Douglas' three-decade-plus career he developed relationships with a lot of the busy lawyers who populate the offices above the garage. Manekin says they appreciated Douglas' "old school" work ethic, but there is also just something about Douglas--his round, smiling face, maybe, or his unusually serene disposition--that resonates with people. As a result, Manekin says, Douglas developed not just acquaintances, but lasting friendships with prominent people in town. And many of them were eager to send him off in style.

Manekin says that 100 invitations for Douglas' retirement party were sent out, and nearly every person who was invited was in attendance. Shapiro says he received calls from people who weren't invited who wanted to get on the guest list. "It's the hottest ticket in town," Manekin jokes.

Rosenstein says that over the years, he's appreciated Douglas' "morning crime briefings." Douglas read about federal cases in the news and took a particular interest in the work that Rosenstein and the other prosecutors were doing upstairs. Rosenstein says the prosecutors appreciated hearing Douglas' thoughts on violent crime and drugs and found him "inspiring." To that end, his office presented a smiling Douglas with a plaque in appreciation of his "support of justice" at the party.

Shapiro has known Douglas since the 1970s, when his law firm was new and had just moved into 36 S. Charles. Shapiro says he and Douglas hit it off immediately and bonded over games of stickball in the alley behind the garage. Years later, Shapiro's firm, Shapiro, Sher, Guinot and Sandler, employs two dozen lawyers and operates offices in Baltimore and Washington. There isn't much time for stickball anymore, but Shapiro and Douglas have gotten to know one another outside of the building. Shapiro says he was honored to attend Douglas' wedding ceremony when he renewed his vows with his wife, Lucille, and over the years the two families have gotten to know one another as well. "I know his children, he knows my children, who know he's an important part of my life and that I respect and admire him," Shapiro says.

Likewise, says Stephen Miles, who tells the Nose that many of the people who Douglas comes in contact with every day "bitch about their jobs when they go to these fancy offices that overlook the Inner Harbor." Douglas, meanwhile, worked in "the basement level, with those fumes, no windows to the outside world. That's your life, six days a week."

 Miles says Douglas always exuded "this sense of inner peace" that is so elusive to so many busy people. That calm, positive energy, Miles says, is one of the things that made him want to keep in touch with Douglas long after Miles' firm left 36 S. Charles.

"I have been out of that building for 15 to 20 years," says Miles. "And I've maintained a close relationship over that time. I don't want him out of my life.

If you ask Douglas how it is that he's made unusually deep connections with people--the kind that make lawyers want to keep in touch with the guy who works in the garage of a building they don't even work in anymore--he simply says that it's "a gift from God."

If you ask Rosenstein, it's also that Douglas represents something that seems to evade so many in the professional world: "He embodies the principle that character is about who you and how you conduct yourself, not what job you hold."

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