Signature issue in contractor lawsuit

signature lineMy story in Tuesday’s paper about a dispute between homeowners and their contractor only touched on one part of the arguments in court — that SBR Construction Co. did not have a license when it performed work on the Gaithersburg home of Ferris R. Bond and Jane C. Norman.

The other part of Monday’s hearing concerned Norman’s motion to dismiss herself from the contractor’s lawsuit. Her argument? She didn’t sign the contract, her husband did.

“There is no cause of action against Defendant Norman because she is not a party to the contract,” her motion for dismissal states.

SBR countered Norman was “actively involved” in the renovation work, including coordinating work days for the contractor.

That Norman didn’t sign the pact “does not mean she did not accept the terms of the contract by her actions and that she is not otherwise legally bound by the contract,” a lawyer for SBR wrote in opposition to Norman’s motion.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard asked Norman’s lawyer Monday whether Norman was “an active participant” in the renovation work.

The lawyer, Thomas A. Mauro, replied SBR’s complaint was “very general” and that it should be amended to reflect Norman’s role.

“He’s the one who dealt with the contractor the whole time,” Mauro said of Bond. “Just checking on work, that’s not enough to implicate Mrs. Norman.”

Bernard gave SBR two weeks to amend its complaint

Lawyer captures win over speed camera ticket

Local attorney and noted sports heckler Robin Ficker took on, yet again, what many would consider an impossible case.

The Bethesda attorney argued against a speeding ticket he received from a Montgomery County speeding camera and won, The Washington Post reported.

Ficker was driving down Jones Bridge Road in Bethesda in September when the camera’s bulb flashed on him. Ficker argued the speed camera violated the county’s speed camera policy, which is to slow traffic in residential areas and near schools. The speed camera that caught him, he said, was at least 270 yards from the nearest house.

After District Court Judge John C. Moffett ruled in favor of Ficker, the attorney called for any drivers caught by that particular speeding camera to be refunded the $40 fine. Police, however, responded that Ficker’s case did not set a precedent in the county.

Ficker was most recently in the news for representing a Montgomery County student suspended for making a gun gesture at an elementary school.

The attorney, however, is best-known as a heckler at Washington Bullets (now Wizards) basketball games, yelling at opposing players from the front row.

Ficker also made several unsuccessful runs for public office, including Montgomery County executive and seats in the state House of Delegates.

Ficker was indefinitely suspended in 2007 but was later reinstated.

(Photo from The Washington Post.)

Buying kosher wine online? L’chaim!

manischewitz wineJust in time for Shabbos, we bring you news that Maryland Jews may soon be able to purchase kosher wine online.

Del. Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, said Friday that he has been approached by a number of Jewish constituents who have expressed frustration at not being able to purchase a variety of kosher wine at local wine stores.

“If you go to your local beer or wine store, they only have so much room,” he said. “If they have kosher wine, it’s going to be the cheaper stuff.”

Under a state law passed in two years ago, residents can purchase wine online only from wineries in the country. But most kosher wines are made in Israel and France and, according to a story in the Washington Examiner, no Maryland wineries produce kosher wine.

Arora said he is trying to explore whether the legislature can find a religious accommodation to the law.

“We are going to figure out whether there is a way to create a narrow exception,” Arora said. “It’s about trying to find a way to create religious accommodations so that Jews can live out their faith.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the current law permitting the online purchasing of wine from wineries, said he would be in favor of creating such an accommodation.

“I think our liquor laws are unduly restrictive in general, so anything that opens it up I am in favor,” Raskin said. “This is a reasonable accommodation for a religious group. I certainly hope we pass this.”

So, readers, will you be breaking out the Manischewitz to celebrate?

(Photo: Jeremy Parzen)

Six-year-old’s suspension for making gun gesture overturned

RRoscoe Nix Elementary Schoolobin Ficker, a Bethesda-based attorney who may be best known for his heckling at basketball games, is in the news again.

Ficker successfully represented a Silver Spring family whose six-year-old son was suspended from school for making a gun gesture and pointing at another student. Montgomery County officials rescinded the suspension Friday.

Ficker argued that school officials overreacted to the pretend gesture and said the boy, who attends Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School, is too young to comprehend in any meaningful way the significance of his actions.

“He doesn’t understand,” Ficker said. “The law says he is not old enough to form intent.”

The boy made the universal sign for a gun one week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Ficker said the school was ”looking at the worst possible interpretation of a young, naive six-year-old.” He also argued that school officials should have discussed the situation with the boy’s mom and considered the implications of the suspension.

“They could have called the mother in. They didn’t do that,” Ficker told The Washington Examiner. “They just said, ‘You’re suspended.’ Five years from now, when someone in to Montgomery County looks at his permanent record, they’re going to see that he threatened to shoot another student.”

If the name hasn’t yet rang a bell, Ficker became well known heckling opponents of the Washington Bullets from his seat behind the visiting team’s bench at USAir Arena in Landover. When the team moved to the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) in downtown Washington, it reseated Ficker far away from the court, prompting him to give up his seats in protest.

His antics became so well known that the Phoenix Suns’ Charles Barkley flew him to Phoenix and gave him a seat behind the Chicago Bulls’ bench during the 1993 NBA Finals. He was so over the top, however, that he was removed by security during the first quarter.

The Maryland Court of Appeals suspended Ficker’s law license in June 2007 in response to complaints of poor client representation. His license was reinstated later that year.

Raskin rips Romney, Ryan and Robert (Bork)

Maryland state Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, wants voters heading to the polls to remember that the president has the authority to make appointments to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts — and that Robert Bork is among the legal advisers to the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Raskin, an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama, warned in Wednesday’s Huffington Post that a “Romney-Ryan-Bork court would lead to the uncorking of bottles of champagne throughout the boardrooms of America’s largest and most right-wing corporations.”

Romney appointees to the federal courts would lead to “an acceleration of all of the worst trends already ravaging the prospects of justice for ‘natural persons’ in America, including the destruction of what is left of campaign finance and disclosure laws as corporations assume all the political free speech rights of the people, a dramatic change ushered in by Citizens United in 2010,” Raskin added on the post’s Politics blog.

Raskin has been quite prolific recently, having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week calling for a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Supreme Court ruled that “the government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether” under the First Amendment.

But Raskin, a widely respected constitutional law professor at American University, might need to brush up on his history.

In the Huffington Post piece he referred to Bork as as “the right-wing polemicist and former Bush Supreme Court nominee so extreme that he was rejected by a bipartisan coalition of Senators in 1987.”

“I think somebody must have changed that,” Raskin said of the error. “I very well know that Ronald Reagan is the one who made that mistake.”

Ripped from the headlines

On this Take Your Child to Work Day, I remember the time in August 2008 when my daughter — a fan of the televison show Law & Order — tagged along as I covered a double-murder trial in Montgomery County.

I told her not to expect there to be a lead male prosecutor and a female assistant sitting “second chair,” a staple of the long-running NBC show. 

I also warned her that gruesome pictures of the crime scene would not be introduced into evidence, as occurs often on the program. After all – as I was told in law school – the prejudicial effect of such photographs on the defendant outweighs their probative value for the jury.

But when we entered the courtroom, there was Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy at the prosecution table sitting with his female assistant, Kathy Knight. And during the trial, the prosecutors successfully introduced into evidence bloody pictures from the 2002 slayings of Gregory Russell, 47, and his 9-year-old daughter Erika Smith at the father’s Silver Spring home.

My credibility now destroyed, what happened next was only fitting.

During a break in the trial, McCarthy came over and introduced himself to my daughter. She politely responded, “Hello, Mr. McCoy.”

[For those of you who may have been in a coma for the past 16 years, or without a TV, the chief prosecutor on Law & Order is Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston.]

As for the trial, defendant Anthony Q. Kelly was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

For extra credit, name the movie that co-starred Waterston and someone who was famously acquitted of a double murder. The answer is here.

Judge hit by allegedly drunken driver he once spared

What a terrible coincidence.

The Washington Post had a story over the weekend about a retired Montgomery County District Court judge who was hit and badly injured last year by an allegedly drunken driver. The twist: 12 years ago, Judge Edwin Collier presided over an earlier drunken-driving case for the driver, Rene Fernandez, and let him off with a suspended sentence.

Collier and his wife were seriously hurt in the crash last August:

Ellen Collier, who is now 82, suffered a compound leg fracture, fractured ribs, a fractured hip and neck injuries, [the Colliers' lawyer John] Kudel said. She has had five operations, including one to fuse vertebrae in her neck, and must use a walker. Edwin Collier, now 86 and who as a retired judge was brought back to hear cases as recently as last year, suffered a broken leg and fractured ribs. He must use a cane.

The diminished mobility forced the couple to move to a retirement community from their home in Bethesda. “Their whole life has changed irreparably,” he said.

Back in 1998, Fernandez came before Collier for the second of two drunken-driving charges in three months. He pleaded guilty; Collier sentenced him to 60 days in jail but suspended the sentence. “The sentence handed down by Collier in 1998 didn’t deviate from standard sentences in the county at the time, according to veteran Montgomery lawyers,” the Post’s Dan Morse writes.

HT: ABA Journal.

Pleasure, pain and a zoning dispute

Certain people would have no problem being snow-bound for a couple days at the Bethesda home featured Friday in a fabulous Washington Post story. The Tone Drive mansion has hosted several BDSM parties the past few months.

(“BDSM”, as the story notes, stands for “bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.” If you want to find out more, I suggest using your home computer, not your work one.)

The story is about how one of the home’s renters received a written warning from Montgomery County zoning officials because he has been charging admission to the parties, commercial activity largely prohibited in residential areas.

The zoning issue alone would have been enough for me to blog about this story. But then there’s this gem of a quote about the type of people who attend the parties:

“An amazing cross-section of humanity,” says Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. “Men, women, transgender, heterosexuals, gays, bisexuals. Every ethnicity. White-collar and blue-collar. It’s really very, very diverse — though we do have an unusually high percentage of lawyers. I don’t know why.”

Sounds like I have a story to work on after I dig out of the snow.

A hot date… at the courthouse?

Fifty-five years of marriage is darned impressive.

So if Ed and Harriet Neufeld of Aspen Hill have found a fun date activity that gets them out of the house together, more power to them.

That said, their hobby is a little… weird.

As the Gazette tells us, the Neufelds, who are retired, go to the Montgomery County Circuit Court weekly to watch cases. “It’s better than television, I’ll tell you that much,” Ed Neufeld told the newspaper.


The Neufelds must either a) have a really low threshold for what’s entertaining or b) be particularly adept at picking exciting cases to watch. Newspaper reporters tend to cover only the most high-profile court cases, and even those are sometimes incredibly dull. (I imagine that the proceedings at which the sketch above was made, on the other hand, were fascinating.)

HT: ABA Journal.

This week in Maryland Lawyer

solo.jpgThey didn’t set out to hang out their shingles — at least, not yet — but the economy made it the most attractive option for these new solo practitioners. Read The Accidental Solo, this related story on setting up shop, and these tips on running your own practice.

The University of Maryland law school’s Appellate and Post-Conviction Advocacy Clinic highlights its summer wins and is taking a setback in stride, as one of its recent clients got arrested on a charge similar to the one the clinic helped get expunged.

Topping the news are stories about the firing of Public Defender Nancy Forster and a citation against a Charles County judge for letting the air out of a court worker’s tire. In Legal Briefs, Chief Judge Bell sends another letter – this time, seeking Social Security numbers for the Client Protection Fund.

In Verdicts & Settlements, a Baltimore jury awards more than $1 million to the children of a young woman who died after surgery to resolve her blood clots. And, in Unbillable Hours, meet a Montgomery County lawyer who coaches high school football players in more ways than one.

PLUS: On the Move; columns by Legal Aid’s Joe Surkiewicz and Dolan Media’s Justin Rebello; and our weekly Law Digest, featuring eight opinions by the 4th Circuit.