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Time for Updates: Referendum Attorneys’ Fate

Time for Updates: Referendum Attorneys’ Fate

For over a year I have been following with great interest the attempt by the Attorney Grievance Commission’s (AGC) Lydia Lawless to disbar two wonderful attorneys. As you may recall, Allen Dyer and Susan Gray represented pro bono (without charge) those petition signature-gathers who attempted a referendum to overturn some of the most egregious Howard County zoning changes produced by Comp Zoning 2013.  While the AGC’s mission is to protect citizens from unscrupulous or poorly skilled attorneys, NONE of Dyer and Gray’s clients had ANY complaints with their representation.  Therefore it was particularly unprecedented (and vindictive) that developers’ attorney William Erskine should bring charges against them through the AGC that could result in their disbarment.

Ms. Lawless worked hand-in-hand with Mr. Erskine (who also attempted to have 25 petition circulators thrown in jail for exercising their First Amendment rights). Lawless filed hundreds of charges against Dyer and Gray, the specifics of which she never actually identified during the 16 days of trial before one of Maryland’s most respected judges. I personally attended several days of this trial and was shocked by Ms. Lawless’s behavior.

I was very impressed by Judge Silkworth’s interest, fairness and restraint. He truly appeared to bend over backwards to ensure due process for both sides. Ultimately Judge Silkworth found in his extensive and well documented report that Gray and Dyer were completely exonerated and that the behaviors of Lydia Lawless and William Erskine were problematic at best and often contrary to the ethics of the legal profession.  Silkworth concluded that Gray and Dyer were protecting the First Amendment rights of their clients.  These were rights Ms. Lawless repeatedly said did not exist in Maryland.

Ms. Lawless wrote a scathing response to Judge Silkworth’s report of findings essentially accusing him of being a rogue judge intent on smearing her and Erskine’s names.  Such criticism before the Court was unbelievable to read.  Months have passed with NO decision regarding the potential disbarment of Dyer and Gray, who are still left with their professions and lives hanging in limbo.

Meanwhile interested parties not associated with the case have done a careful analysis of the extent to which Ms. Lawless will go to manipulate facts to fit her agenda.  For example, the trial transcripts show she read to the judge from the complaint she earlier wrote, but then she deviously inserted additional wording to fit her argument.  When challenged, she refused to let anyone else see the document.  Even the judge was told “…don’t touch my stuff.”

Additionally, she erroneously accused a Department of Justice attorney of hiding his son from her process server. The process server filed an affidavit to the contrary.

Within Judge Silkworth’s Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law are countless examples of Ms. L’s inappropriate behaviors.  Some examples include:

  • … [Ms. L] gives no weight or consideration to the legitimate and important legal issues that Respondents faced. [Ms. L] merely adopts the biased position taken by Mr. Erskine without considering the totality of the circumstances.
  • This court further notes [Ms.L’s] lack of objectivity during the pendency of this litigation. [Ms. L] presented the Court and the Respondents with vague, broad, and sweeping allegations of wrong doing.  Respondents believe that the charges against them, did not afford the necessary information to respond in detail to the allegations. Respondents felt that [Ms. L] was allowing Mr. Erskine to violate the purpose of the rules by using the Attorney Grievance process against them during the litigation. The Court believes there is some merit to this claim.
  • ……the bias and lack of objectivity remains. [Ms. L’s] conduct reflects a lack of fairness, objectivity and bias that the Court should not ignore.
  • Once again, this Court finds that [Ms. L’s] allegation is too simplistic in a matter that is much more complex and detailed.
  • [Ms. L’s] willingness to cite to evidence that is in no way clear and convincing calls into question Assistant Bar Counsel’s ability to remain personally unbiased in this matter and further taints the credibility of their accusations.
  • [Ms. L’s] …argument is frivolous as it is not supported by any law.

The last comment is quite ironic.  Ms. Lawless and Mr. Erskine accused Gray and Dyer of filing frivolous cases in defense of their clients.  Yet all of the proceedings involved in the referendum, including the protection of signature gatherers, generated a transcript of 439 pages.  The transcript of the disciplinary case brought by Ms. Lawless was 3,184 pages!  Thus the disciplinary case required more than 7.25 times the amount of in-Court time to resolve than the underlying matter.

And here is where this misadventure takes yet another bizarre twist…..

Despite evidence that she would misrepresent facts to create her own narrative, Ms. Lawless is now under most inappropriate consideration for the position of chief prosecuting attorney (Bar Counsel) of the Maryland’s Attorney Grievance Commission! A woman who has shown such a complete lack of judicial ethics is awarded for her ethics and nominated to be Bar Counsel!?!  Is it any wonder the public has lost faith in the judiciary in Maryland?

But all may not yet be lost.  There is an unusual opportunity from the AGC itself.  It has asked for comments on the 3 finalists for Bar Council by next Monday.  Hard copy is due at their office by April 3rd, addressed to the Attorney Grievance Commission, 200 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Suite 300, Annapolis, MD 21401. Return receipt requested is suggested.

Alternately, you can e-mail by 3:00 pm on April 3rd to Marianne.lee@agc.maryland.gov with the subject line: Comments on Bar Counsel finalists.  Please cc: Sharon.Gross@agc.maryland.gov

This presents an extraordinary opportunity to act locally on a national problem – the ‘alternative facts’ method of supporting an agenda. In this case it is an agenda that serves corporate interest over the basic constitutional rights of Howard County citizens.

The facts in this case indicate that Ms. Lawless is a seriously flawed candidate for a position as a trustworthy public servant who should be focused on the interest of the public good and upholding the US constitution.  How much more lowering of standards can be anticipated under her “leadership”?

You too can and should write a letter or e-mail—and meet me on the high road,

 Susan
P.S. Problems with the outcomes of the 2013 Comprehensive Zoning Process are what started this misadventure.  An opportunity for public participation in evaluating and updating the zoning, subdivision, and land development regulations has not been well publicized. Please try to attend one of the 2 remaining sessions as described below.

 

 

 

 

No Oversight on the Overlook

No Oversight on the Overlook

How come no one was looking over what was being permitted at the Patuxent Overlook development? How come we continue to spend huge sums of money on Bay clean-up and local projects to correct past mistakes from inadequate storm water management practices; yet we continue to permit truly bonehead practices?

Shame on YOU Howard County

Just when one thinks that they have seen it all when it comes to development abuses in Howard County one will drive by an example that defies the imagination, an incident of truly jaw dropping proportion!

In an earlier post I commented that I pitied the fool who lived downstream of HoCo. I commented what a horrible neighbor we are, how we ignore the impact of our poorly regulated development practices on our downstream neighbors. I wonder just what the residents of the City of Laurel think when they look across the Patuxent (PAX) River (the border between HoCo and PG County) from the vantage point of Main Street and Route 216.

HoCo appears to have permitted the total stripping and regrading of a parcel atop the steep slopes which lead to the Patuxent River below. That section of the Pax River has been known to flood with some frequency and especially any time the dam above it needs to be opened. I suspect the thinking is that there is little development subject to flooding on the Howard County side– somehow making it okay to flood out the lower developed Prince George’s County side –not to mention properties along the Anne Arundel portion just downstream.

What makes the site which they have stripped and regraded so reprehensible to me personally is that the situation there in North Laurel very closely parallels the situation we are facing in Savage. If the DPZ has permitted such poor development practices along the Patuxent River, then clearly our fears that they would allow the same along the Little Patuxent are well founded. Both parcels sit on ridgelines above steep slopes to park trails below which follow along waterways which feed the Chesapeake Bay.

Both Parcels were fully wooded; all trees ‘must’ be removed to “accommodate the density” desired. Both parcels have waterways which need protection on two sides. In Laurel, it is the Patuxent River and a branch which feeds into it.  In Savage, it is the Middle Pax and the Little Pax. In both cases the HoCo Department of Recreation and Parks is accepting steep slope property unsuited for recreation as ‘open space’ which comes with significant future on-going maintenance costs.

Both parcels are infill situations at their worst.  In Laurel, a single home snuggled amongst the trees is being replaced with NINE single family homes with a common drive/flag lot arrangement. In Savage, land originally zoned R-20 (2 residences per acre) was previously rezoned to B-2 (business), and now to R-H-ED (a zone whose intent is to provide special protection to the environmental and historic resources of the area yet permits 10 residential units per acre). A total of 35 units are proposed to include singles, duplexes, and townhouses.

We will never recover the cost to correct the misguided storm water management practices being allowed.  When parcels are stripped of established trees and vegetation they are made vulnerable to run off and erosion.  If the top soil is removed during regrading and the soil is compacted to prevent uneven settling throughout the development, then the growth of anything replanted (reforested?) will be severely retarded.  It could easily take decades to restore the stability of soil near slopes which have been disturbed.  The best possible practice is to leave slopes and land proximate undisturbed.  I found it disturbing (no pun intended) that our HoCo regulations re: steep slopes differ significantly from those of the Howard Soil Conservation District (HSCD), the MD Dept. of the Environment (MDE), and the MD Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Our HoCo DPZ is concerned only when steep slopes exceed 25% or more of 20,000 sq. ft. of contiguous land.  The other organizations define steep slopes as those of 20% or greater regardless of the acreage. They also have higher standards for erodible soils.

It has become a thinly veiled plan of developers to ‘give’ or ‘dedicate’ to the County as their open space requirement, those lands which aren’t buildable. By giving the County all of the steep slopes and wetlands for example, they can assure that the Technical Staff Report for the Planning Board will indicate “There are no steep slopes or wetlands affected by this development” despite the fact that the buildable parcel may now be surrounded by or immediately proximate to slopes and wetlands.  While an entire parcel may be stripped of mature forest, HoCo only addresses preservation of specimen trees (those 30 inches in diameter or 75% of state champion trees,) rather than considering ‘tree cover’ as recommended by the MD DNR and as codified by several MD counties.

We clearly need to do more to prevent problems rather than fix them.  While it is often said, it may not be true that “There’s never enough money to do something right the first time, but  always enough money to do it over.”  Strict enforcement of best practices and a healthy dose of common sense are required.  For example we must think beyond the initial installation of mini and micro storm water management (SWM) facilities on each lot. Will the future homeowners have the resources, knowledge, and time to maintain them?  Think beyond initial installation of larger “dry ponds.” Will the new Home Owners Association (HOA) actually maintain them? or will it be up to the County to intervene and remediate at taxpayer expense in order to meet State standards?

Hopefully two actions by the County will help to prevent the continued degradation of our waterways:

  1. The long overdue rewrite of our zoning code and subdivision regulations which is scheduled to begin soon.
  2. The proposed FY18 capital budget item to provide Rec & Parks with some funding to purchase sensitive land which become available along waterways.

The outcomes of either of those efforts is as yet unknown, but in the interim, tighter adherence to our existing regulations should be the way forward (i.e. interpreting zoned density as MAXIMUM density, not GUARANTEED density, and granting fewer waivers.) HoCo needs to be less generous in accepting those steep slope, wetland, or SWM areas which are sure to have subsequent on-going issues and costs.  The advice of the Howard County Soil Conservation District and that of the MD Departments of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Natural Resources Conservation Service should be respected and enforced.

Just as we need the many different law enforcement entities (FBI, CIA, HSS, state and local PD) to work cooperatively to protect us from terrorism, so too do we need government agencies (DPZ, DILP, SCD, DNR, MDE, NRCS) to protect us from what amounts to eco-terrorism by the development process. And of course, good leadership and a vision of what we want the future HoCo of our children and grandchildren to be like, would help tremendously.

Insist on better oversight and outcomes—and meet me on the high road—

Susan

Examining the Proposed New Courthouse through an APFO Lens

Examining the Proposed New Courthouse through an APFO Lens

How come two major issues emerging on the legislative scene are being considered in a strictly parallel fashion?  While parallel lines may never cross, I think these two issues should.

On February 16 the Planning Board heard testimony on new and major changes in the FY18 Capital budget.  This included funds to replace the historic Court House in Ellicott City. $70 million is requested in the FY18 budget but that number is expected to climb to a total of $130 million. A private/public partnership has been proposed to result in a building with a life expectancy of 30 (or 40) years. There is a lot of chatter on listserves and social media about the choice of the Dorsey Building on Bendix Road and the HCCA has done a great job of consolidating citizens’ thoughts on alternate locations.  I’ll reserve comment on that front for now in favor of making my connection to the other important topic. (You, however, are welcome to comment on this location debate.)

On February 16 the Planning Board also hosted a public speak out on the long awaited (or most would say, long overdue) Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.  APFO is all about making sure that growth doesn’t outpace the facilities necessary to maintain a desired quality of life.  HoCo’s growth rate of late has been twice that of the State average and it’s been about 14 years since our Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance was last updated. So it is no wonder the natives are restless for relief from overcrowded schools and roads. They are also restless about the other quality of life issues absent from the proposed APFO: fire and emergency services and hospital beds to name a few.

I’ve been watching with some amusement these two issues (a new Courthouse and APFO) being addressed in isolation. How come we’re missing an obvious connection?  We’ve heard testimony before the Council that we must build a new Court House because we have simply outgrown the existing one. The facility is too small to accommodate all the people and all the supporting services typically housed in a court house …..and besides, its thick walls hamper internet service …..and there is no coffee shop for employees or jurors. If we’ve outgrown the existing facility then that must surely be the result of population growth.

Isn’t the whole mission of APFO to assure that our public facilities are adequate to accommodate our population growth?? Why then shouldn’t capital expenses related to supporting the judicial functions of HoCo be an area considered for inclusion in the APFO legislation???

Here’s some math for your consideration:

The new Courthouse will accommodate 6 judges with 2 additional chambers for “Growth” at a total cost of $130 million.
That makes the amount of courthouse expense allocated for “growth” going forward $32.5 million.
Now, the number of housing units being built per year approaches 2000 and the lifespan of the
proposed “lease” through the public/private partnership is either 30 or 40 years.
So……..Through this lens the cost to developers should equal a $406 surcharge per new residential unit for the next 40 years. Or $541 per unit if the lease is for 30 years.

To NOT include financing of the Courthouse as an APFO item simply passes the expense to existing residents. Regrettably this will be in addition to the $866 in debt each household will owe for the replacement courthouse.  How does that make you feel HoCo taxpayers?

We have a number of VERY rich residents in HoCo, sometimes described as “having money to burn”. But I can’t imagine that even they would be satisfied with paying $130 million for a home (or business building) that would have only a 30 to 40 year lifespan and then need to be replaced.

If the Courthouse is constructed on land already owned by the County which currently houses other County functions, the ripple effect of relocating those offices and functions elsewhere can set off a spiraling increase in costs as other facilities will need to be purchased and re-purposed or rented and repurposed. Ca-ching!

Let’s give this careful consideration through numerous lenses—including APFO—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

PS—If you don’t feel you have a clear understanding on how APFO will or will not improve life here in HoCo for YOUR family, please attend an ‘APFO Bootcamp’ to be presented at the Savage Library from 7:00 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, March 22nd.  If you care about the schools, roads, and quality of life issues that affect you daily, you must become involved in shaping the final product—OR you yield your right to complain (at least for another 10 to 14 years.)

A special thanks to Judy George for organizing this informational forum.

 

Working at cross-purposes?

Working at cross-purposes?

How come it sometimes seems that our HoCo governmental departments are working at cross-purposes? One example I’ve previously commented on is the futility of continuing to permit new development on steep slopes while also conducting an expensive storm water remediation program for situations caused by exactly such development practices. But today I want to comment on a completely different set of cross purpose actions which have me scratching my head. It doesn’t deal with development issues for a change….or does it?

For years our HC police have conducted undercover sting operations to trap men engaging in solicitation of prostitution.  While I fully support police actions which reduce prostitution and human trafficking in HoCo I do have to question the repeated use of the same hotel for their sting operations. As described in the HC Times and Sun articles Eight arrested in Laurel undercover police sting. 2/23/17 detectives lured those ultimately arrested by placing fake ads on a website often used for prostitution. Once men call the phone number in the ad they’re connected to undercover female officers who provide a place to meet in the 9800 block of Washington Boulevard (Route 1). http://www.baltimoresun.com/ph-ho-cf-glances-prostitution-arrests-0510-20120503-story.html

Is it just me or does it seem unwise to be publicizing the effectiveness of sting operations in North Laurel at the same time HoCo is attempting to sell a property which was purchased in the closing the moments of the Ulman administration in the very next block??? Somehow, somewhere, someone must realize that publicizing such sting operations make revitalization of the Route 1 corridor much more challenging. The hotel in question is located directly across the street from properties which the county is encouraging to be aggregated with the property they are attempting to sell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E7rbHwDqlU

I also have to question the wisdom of attracting people who frequent prostitutes into an area where the adjoining street is residential and populated with many children. How come the county police don’t alternate the sites for these stings more frequently? How come they are not providing their targets with the opportunity to see more of Howard County—by attracting them to motels or hotels in Columbia or Ellicott City or Maple Lawn? I can assure you that folks in the North Laurel area would be more than happy to share the wealth. It is interesting to see just how far away the eight persons arrested traveled to the honeypot site.  They came from as far away as Philadelphia, but are mainly from surrounding Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Montgomery, and Carroll Counties.  What does the HoCo Tourism Board think of this?

How come the subject hotel, which was the site of a murder last year, is so willing to be used by the police?  Are they just biding their time until they can sell at a higher value since they were rezoned, and like the opposite corner, are targeted for “property aggregation”?

Stop by again for more things that make you go hmmmm—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Is “The Carnage” coming to Howard County?

Is “The Carnage” coming to Howard County?

How come so little is being done to protect Howard County residents from the coming Carnage?

No, HoCo is not facing the same kind of carnage as Chicago—or of Baltimore which actually exceeds Chicago’s murder rate on a per capita basis. It’s a different kind of looming carnage that I want to comment on today.  But before I go there, I do think it bears mentioning that there does seems to be a noticeable uptick in crime in HoCo. Shootings (fatal and non-fatal) and knife attacks, once unheard of in HoCo, now feel as common as muggings, robberies, domestic violence incidents, home invasions, drug deals, scams, and fatal DUI occurrences. To this local news junkie, all types of crime appear to be on the rise in Howard County. Perhaps this is to be accepted as inevitable now that we are being pushed to be more urban. The incidence of crime increases with population growth and especially when people start living in highly dense environments. While some criminal acts are HoCoResident on HoCoResident (HCR on HCR) the County’s well known affluence draws additional participants from the Baltimore or D.C. urban areas.

Many would say there’s not much we can do to combat that situation as we become urbanized, but there is another kind of Carnage, the stuff of nightmares, on the increase in Howard County. We CAN do something about it– if we act fast and make it a priority.

Much time, money and energy is devoted in HoCo to Bicycle Advocacy and Sharing the Road.  We now have the Comprehensive Bike Howard plan adopted and an accompanying sizable budget request for FY 2018. While some of the impetus comes from the more daring bicyclists themselves, encouraging bike riding is embraced by the County as a means to decrease the demand for more or better roads as our population increases.   Unfortunately very little effort– or money– appear to be devoted to education and safety in Bike Howard.
There was yet another bicycling advocacy event a week ago and I admit I didn’t bother to attend knowing that my pleas for more education and safety would once again fall on deaf ears. I happen to reside on a street which is already marked with bicycle lanes of considerably variable width. These lanes alternates with great frequency from a width equivalent to a full traffic lane to 4 feet and eventually to nothing. I regularly observe so many violations on the part of motorists and bicyclists that it is making me quite fearful. A sense of anxiety and dread engulfs me when I observe this unlawful and foolish behavior. For some time I have been vocal about my concern that one of two things could happen:

  • I would be involved in an accident involving a bicyclist or
  • I would observe an accident involving a bicyclist

Regrettably the latter occurred about 3 weeks ago and the image is still in my head.

I was driving along Stephens Road just beyond the traffic circle at Whiskey Bottom at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to pick my grandchildren up from school.  I was aware by my peripheral vision that there was an adult bicyclist off to my left as I was approaching the first ‘super-secret building’ (a local designation) on the left. I noted a motorist preparing to pull out of the facility’s gated drive.

I subsequently returned my attention to the road in front of me.  Consequently, I did not see the actual moment of impact (thankfully). But I did observe the immediate effect when an ‘incongruity’ in my peripheral vision again drew my attention.  Why was a person so high off the ground, in the air, at a height at which one does not normally see people???  The impact had clearly sent the bicyclist airborne…… and that image is what continues to stick in my head.

As I slowed my first emotion was of course concern for how badly the male bicyclist may have been hurt.  To my shock and surprise the bicyclist proceeded to attack the car, kicking it repeatedly and banging on the roof.  Maybe it was an adrenaline rush, but it certainly looked odd.

Another car pulled over to assist so I proceeded to pick up my grandkids on schedule. On the return home we passed an ambulance and several police cars at the site.  I guess I’ll never know if the bicyclist was being checked out for injuries sustained in the impact with the car or as a result of attacking the car afterward. It also occurred to me that the motorist might be in the ambulance if the biker subsequently attacked him (or her) or if s/he suffered a heart attack from the emotional trauma of the event.

You may think it heartless to be thinking of the well-being of the motorist rather than the bicyclist under the circumstances. But what WERE the circumstances??? In fact, the adult bicyclist was breaking two laws, rules of the road:

  • Riding against traffic rather than with it (i.e. driving on the wrong side of the road) and
  • Riding without a helmet. (Wasn’t HoCo among the first jurisdictions anywhere to require helmets? Or does that not apply to stylishly coifed adults?)

I don’t want to witness additional accidents or be involved as a motorist—or as a pedestrian.  If we are all going to be sharing the road there needs to be serious effort and energy put into teaching the rules of the road to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Pamphlets in the library WILL NOT be sufficient. Public service announcements, you-tube videos, educational events at schools, community centers, etc. are needed to get the message out.  I agree with the opinions expressed by Ann Conlin in her Jan 5, 2017 Letter to the Editor in the HC Times (Legal parity on the road for bikes and cars) which suggests bicyclists who use the roadways should be registered and insured.  I would add licensed after passing a written test on rules of the road! There would have to be a commitment to enforce the rules of the road and to apply penalties for lawbreakers.  We cannot continue to overlook a failure to stop at stop signs and red lights, or to stay in one’s lane or to simply ‘drive safely’– by anyone using the shared roadways AND the bicycle paths.  It’s the only way to avoid the coming carnage.

We’ve already experienced a HoCo youngster seriously injured by a hit and run bicyclist on a bike path.  I worry about my friend, a senior citizen who is blind who independently navigates the pathway between Vollmerhausen Road and Guilford Road.  I don’t want him to be the next victim of an inconsiderate cycling Yahoo.

I’m aware that it is risky to oppose the strong “bicycle lobby” that exists in HoCo today.  But I’d rather be considered an old biddy if it

  • saves even one life
  • prevents a life-altering survivable injury
  • saves a motorist from undeserved guilt over an accident at which they were not at fault

Support greater safety programs for sharing the road and the pathway systems while driving, cycling, and walking defensively—and meet me on the high road,

Susan