Published in 2024 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine
By Riley Beggin on December 13, 2023
In “Smalltimore,” everybody knows everybody, reputations mean everything, and when someone asks where you went to school, they mean high school.
But big stories and bigger personalities still find their way to this so-called small town, and no one has seen more of them than Steve Silverman.
From dirty cops and mass shootings to concussions in professional sports and a mayoral corruption scandal, Silverman has been involved in some of the most fascinating and consequential cases in Baltimore history. As managing partner of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White, he handles nearly every type of civil and criminal litigation and leads a team of more than 40 attorneys.
Clients, peers and judges say he’s a straight shooter who puts people first and has a knack for trial work. In fact, Silverman hasn’t lost a criminal jury trial since 1994. But even after decades on the job, he’s still hungry for the challenge of finding the right strategy for each new case.
“I’ve been a lawyer for 32 years,” he says, “and I’ve still got a lot of game left. But I’m shocked that I still see things every day that I’ve never seen before. And that’s what kind of keeps you going.”
When he was 6 years old, Silverman learned via news coverage about one of the most infamous killers in American history: the Boston Strangler. He was both stunned that someone could commit such horrible crimes and intrigued by the mystery surrounding the murders. His eyes turned to the likely killer’s defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey.
“The challenge of having to deal with that and present that to a jury … it just seemed like a fascinating career,” Silverman says. From then on, “always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney.”
Years later, at the University of Richmond, Silverman became classmates with the daughter of then-Attorney General Edwin Meese. He told Meese what he wanted to do, and Meese advised him to go to the public defender’s office straight out of law school. “‘You will run circles around everybody else, all the Wall Street lawyers,’” Silverman recalls Meese telling him. “‘Once you’ve learned to ride the bike, you never forget.’ So that’s what I did.”
After graduating from The University of Baltimore School of Law, Silverman got a job as an assistant felony defense attorney at the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. A few days later, he was preparing for his first jury trial.
“I’d just turned 25 and I looked like I was about 15,” Silverman says. “But I realized I had a knack for relating to juries. Getting through all the noise and getting right to the heart of a case.”
He went on to win his first six cases.
Never known for his grades in school, Silverman flourished in a courtroom. He understood people, from the jury and judges to the clients themselves, and he knew how to communicate with them. “I’m a kiss down, kick up kind of person,” he says. “I had no problem relating to my clients.”
The public defender’s office also showed him firsthand how fickle the legal system can be. In one early case, his client was a low-level drug dealer selling to fund his own use. He was assigned a tough judge, who was offering him a plea deal of more than a decade behind bars without the chance of parole. At the last minute, the judge threw his back out. A more liberal judge came in and offered a shorter suspended sentence and the chance at a drug treatment program.
“We came so close to his life being thrown away,” Silverman says. “Justice is so inconsistent and turns on a dime.”
After nearly four years in the PD’s office, Silverman got the entrepreneurial itch. With only himself and barely any capital, he set out to build his own firm.
Silverman’s first major case came from a guard at the city jail whose son had joined the national Jobs Corps program and, on his way home one weekend, was killed in a train collision near Chase, Maryland. At first, Silverman wasn’t sure he could successfully pursue the wrongful death case.
“I never do things that I don’t think I can do at the highest level,” Silverman says. He took a few weekend courses put on by the state Bar, then went on to win the case.
In another case, Silverman represented the family of 17-year-old Isaiah Simmons, who died at a juvenile detention facility in 2007 after being restrained face-down by staff for hours. The case settled for $1.2 million and prompted changes in Maryland restraint regulations.
Seeking out resources and learning as he went became a frequent strategy for Silverman in the early years. He also knew when to admit he wasn’t the best person to take a case.
“Anybody successful in anything, particularly in the law, has to have a keen understanding and an honest understanding of your strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “As I built this law firm, the goal was to surround myself with people that complemented my weaknesses.”
Two years after starting the firm, he took on an associate, then another. He kept expanding. Old colleagues called him “The Wolf,” after Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction—a problem solver who had a hand in a case’s strategy from beginning to end, even if he wasn’t the lawyer out front.
That continues to this day. Silverman’s partner, Evan Corcoran, is one of the attorneys defending former President Donald Trump against federal conspiracy charges related to the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021. “You’ll never see my name in the paper,” Silverman says of the case, “but I’m always involved on the outside.”
As Silverman’s practice grew, so did the profiles of his clients.
He’s represented multiple professional athletes, beginning with former heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe, who was referred to Silverman after being charged in Prince George’s County with domestic assault. Bowe was acquitted and Silverman went on to represent him for a decade on multiple issues.
In 2013, he was appointed as a lead and co-lead in class action suits representing hundreds of NHL players who claimed the league did nothing to prevent them from getting chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. The suit “literally changed the game, changed the protocols for hockey players and made the games a lot safer,” Silverman says. Now, an independent doctor must deem players safe to return to the ice after suffering a concussion, much like regulations in the NFL. “That was very gratifying work.”
He also represented thousands of former NFL players, including former Chicago Bears Richard Dent and Jim McMahon, in a lawsuit alleging the league caused career-ending injuries and addiction issues by giving them opioids and other painkillers to play through injuries.
“In 1985 I’m in college watching the Super Bowl, and the next thing you know I’m sitting at Gibson’s in Chicago at dinner with [McMahon] telling stories, and we’re getting up in the morning and doing The Today Show,” he says. “It’s kind of cool to have professional and personal relationships with these iconic people in your world.”
By far his most challenging case was defending former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who was charged with fraud and tax evasion for double-selling copies of her Healthy Holly children’s books, including to Baltimore City Public Schools, and funneling proceeds into her mayoral campaign and home renovations.
The case drew intense media attention, and Pugh spent weeks holed up in her home, surrounded by the press. Silverman took on the roles of spokesperson, legal adviser and support system for Pugh, who says she was “mentally and emotionally broken” at the time.
“I really suffered through this entire thing,” Pugh says. “He was there not just as an attorney but as a friend. He was very empathetic, very caring, very devoted. I don’t think we ever looked at time, and he attended to my needs as a person. He was more than willing to go above and beyond.”
Silverman had to make a call early in the case: Keep Pugh away from the press, convince her not to go to trial, and put her in the best possible position for sentencing. Pugh was sentenced in 2020 to three years in federal prison and three years of supervised release—less than half the sentence the government was seeking.
Judge Sally C. Chester, who has known Silverman personally for more than a decade and by reputation since he worked in the public defender’s office, says Silverman has a gift for assessing the possible outcomes of a case, “and then having the ability to have your client see what’s in their best interest.”
Convincing someone of Pugh’s age and stature to take a plea deal “is almost impossible,” Chester says. “What he did for her is remarkable. There are very few lawyers who could have done for her what he did. There are other lawyers whose own egos would have gotten in the way.”
Even as his roster of famous clients expanded, Silverman kept taking on diverse cases that interested him—several of which gained prominence of their own.
He represented Umar Burley and Brent Matthews, who spent a combined 10 years in prison after members of the Baltimore Police’s Gun Trace Task Force illegally planted heroin in their car. It blew open the corruption on the task force, which was later dubbed a “shifting constellation of corrupt officers” by the Department of Justice. Baltimore City eventually paid Burley and Matthews a $7.9 million settlement—among the largest in Maryland history.
And after a man walked into the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis in June 2018 and killed five employees, Silverman helped the victims’ families sue The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing for failing to adequately protect the employees. Silverman’s partners weren’t sure the case would be successful, but they pressed on and eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
“I have a lot of weaknesses, but one of my skills is evaluating cases and fact patterns,” Silverman says. “And that was one of them.”
When former state Attorney General Doug Gansler ran for statewide office in 2006, he was introduced to Silverman as “the guy to know in Baltimore,” Gansler recalls.
“He has a rare combination of courtroom skills and street smarts. Having personality and ability to understand people is critical, and I think Steve has that gift,” says Gansler, who worked with Silverman when he represented Georgia Angelos, the owner of the Orioles, while Silverman represented her son, club president John Angelos. “It’s safe to say that Steve Silverman built Silverman Thompson from scratch, and it has in some ways replaced those legacy law firms as the preeminent law firm in Maryland right now.”
Silverman is excited for what’s still ahead. He loves watching the firm succeed and grow—which he credits as “the result of symmetry and the unique talents between the named partners and our newer partners, [who] enhance the depth, breadth and talent of the firm”—and he’s drawn to substantive cases that make a difference in society. “Thankfully, you never know what your next case is going to be, and it’s always different. I never get bored, because something completely unique, off-the-wall and challenging is going to come in the next day, week, month or year.”
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