Quotation marks: you’re using them wrong

OK, so this isn’t strictly about law. I mean, it is insofar as it relates to the governor’s race and the governor signs things into law and both major candidates are lawyers. But really, it’s about grammar. Bear with me.

I just got a press release from the O’Malley campaign entitled, “Ehrlich’s ‘Faux’ Education Facts.” It goes on to use “faux,” in quotes, twice in the body of the press release. What the O’Malley folks are clearly trying to say is that Ehrlich’s facts are phony. What they are actually doing is casting doubt on the phoniness of Ehrlich’s facts by putting the word faux in quotes. It’s like when a store advertises, “Sale today! 50 percent off ‘everything’ in the store!” The store wants to emphasize that everything they have is on sale, but what they end up doing is making people wonder what’s not on sale.

What the O’Malley campaign should have done was used one of the two following titles: 1) “Ehrlich’s Faux Education Facts” (no quotation marks) or 2) “Ehrlich’s Education ‘Facts’” (quotation marks around the correct word).

To recap today’s lesson from an uptight grammar nerd: quotation marks are not for emphasis. Use them sparingly and wisely. And if you want a good laugh, go visit the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks.

Southwest Video update

Last time I wrote about Southwest Video, the Halethorpe business was closed even after the county Board of Appeals ruled it was improperly shut down by county officials. Southwest did eventually reopen – only to be shut down last week once again by county officials.

Meg Ferguson, the county hearing officer, ordered the business closed July 1 until it removed all of its “viewing booths and video display devices.” Ferguson also fined Southwest $13,200 on top of the $50,800 she fined the business in the spring for operating an adult entertainment business in a prohibited commercial zone.

Mike Mohler, deputy director of the county permitting office, said he and colleagues would be returning to Southwest today to make sure the video booths had been removed.

Howard Schulman, Southwest’s lawyer, called the closing illegal, alluding to his earlier, successful argument that a court order and the accompanying due process are necessary to shut the business down.

“The county unfortunately has resorted to illegal methods to enforce what it says is the law,” he said.

Schulman said Southwest is considering its legal options, one of which is to sue the county for damages in order to “decide the matter once and for all in a judicial setting.” (Southwest has filed two mandamus-related lawsuits against the county stemming from the zoning and code enforcement actions.)

All of this comes as the Baltimore County Council approved Tuesday more restrictive zoning laws for adult entertainment businesses. Among other changes, stores with adult content that exceeds 15 percent of the total inventory would be classified as adult entertainment businesses and must be located in manufacturing zones. That’s down from the 20-percent threshold but more than the 5-percent figure proposed in response to Halethorpe residents’ complaints about Southwest during a council session in May.

Schulman, who skimmed the legislation when I called him, said it seemed “too broad in terms of its scope and reach.”

Without public outcry, there is no public information?

After Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced the city’s new health commissioner at a press conference Wednesday morning, I approached the mayor to ask about her vote to approve a $200,000 settlement payment to an anonymous plaintiff regarding a mysterious, mistaken run-in with police.

She calmly told me, as others in city government have, that it was the plaintiff who requested confidentiality and that she and other city leaders deemed that was a reasonable request given the circumstances. Asked how that squared with her professed commitment to transparency, she said, more than once, that “transparency for the public good” is actually what she believes in and that this case, while a “very tough call,” did not fall into that category.

Her principles are flexible, she said.

“This is a rare case,” she continued, “and it’s important to be principled but also flexible and this case called for flexibility.”

Asked how the public can be assured, without knowing the details of the incident, that there won’t be a repeat performance – humiliating to the subject and expensive for the public – the mayor implied no public concern over a confidential settlement with an anonymous claimant concerning a mysterious event means it should stay private.

“There isn’t a public outcry,” she said. “That’s why the only calls we’re getting are from you.”

Is she right?