Baltimore County visitation center gets permanent home

It’s fitting in a way that a building that used to house the poor and homeless will on Friday officially become the new location for Baltimore County Circuit Court’s visitation center. Because the center, run through the court’s Family Support Services office, has been an orphan of sorts since its inception 11 years ago.

Officially known as the Supervised Visitation and Monitored Exchange Program, the visitation center primarily is used to allow meetings between children and “high-risk parents,” as well as drop off and pick up children whose safety is not a concern despite an issue between the parents.

The center has never had its own space, only sharing county buildings, according to Mark Urbanik, coordinator of Family Support Services. It most recently had space on the east side and west side of the counties until funding losses made the arrangement unsustainable.

So the court went to the county and asked for a new space. The county chose a central location, Cockeysville and building, The Almshouse, which dates to 1873 but closed in 1930. It was most recently used by the Baltimore County Historical Society.

The center hosts 125, one-hour-long supervised visitation sessions a month, Urbanik said. “High-risk” parents could include those with a history of drug problems or who are considered a flight risk, he said. There are about 10 monitored exchanges each month, he added, in cases where one parent has a restraining order against the other, for example.

Its new second-floor home features a large “romper room” with toys, games and crafts for families, Urbanik said. Perhaps more importantly, the center has separate parking lots for parents to prevent any chance encounters.

Urbanik added there is also room for a possible expansion in the future.

Must’ve been news to the clerk

Among a flurry of endorsement e-mails I received yesterday from the campaign of Baltimore County executive candidate Joe Bartenfelder, one stood out.

“BARTENFELDER’S RUN FOR COUNTY EXECUTIVE ENDORSED BY SUZANNE MENSH, LONG-STANDING ELECTED OFFICIAL,” the headline read.

The press release from the Bartenfelder campaign goes on to describe Mensh as being the court clerk “from 1986 until the present.” Which must have come as a surprise to Rick Arnold, the incumbent.

Continue reading

Dress capris and other little things

I was walking through the clerk’s office in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Monday when I heard music playing softly. I knew some people played the radio at their desks, but this time it sounded like Nelly Furtado was floating above me.

It turned out lite rock was being played through the office intercom system. Rick Arnold, the court’s new clerk, told me an employee suggested turning on the radio and he agreed.

“We can always turn it off,” he said. “Hopefully it makes for a little more pleasant environment for our employees and our customers.”

Arnold also has allowed women to wear open-toed shoes and dress capris in the clerk’s office. Far from being Tim Gunn, Arnold had no idea what dress capris were. (One of my coworkers explained to me that if you take a pair of dress pants and chop off a few inches, you probably have a pair of dress capris.) Rather, he’s operating under the theory that the little things in life can make a big difference, especially during the recent heat wave.

“If it’s going to be hot and we’re swamped, why make employees miserable?” he said.

Animal cruelty sentencing postponed

The sentencing of a Baltimore County lawyer and his wife on animal cruelty charges, set for Tuesday, has been postponed.

Hilton and Donna Silver were found guilty in April in circuit court of neglecting one of their horses, which was in such poor condition it had to be euthanized on the spot. The Silvers face a maximum of 90 days in jail. The April trial was an appeal of a guilty verdict the couple received in district court last August.

A new sentencing date has not been scheduled.

A call to Hilton Silver’s lawyer Tuesday afternoon was not returned. Court records indicate David A. Greenbaum filed a motion for a new trial in May. Prosecutor Adam Lippe said in an e-mail he did not ask for the postponement.

One reason for the delay might be that the judge, Thomas J. Bollinger, is in the midst of the Mary Koontz murder trial. I’ve seen judges delay the day’s testimony in a civil matter to handle a criminal issue, but I would imagine it’s a little more difficult to interrupt a murder trial for a hearing that could take a few hours.

The jury reached a verdict. Did you?

Earlier this week, I presented in this space details about a jury trial in a case concerning a mailman and a dog. The letter carrier, Mary Jo Davis, had sued Charles and Karen Cheelsman after their dog, Lucky, allegedly attacked Davis as she attempted to deliver the mail in 2007. Davis subsequently needed knee surgery and was seeking $550,000 in damages.

So what happened in Baltimore County Circuit Court earlier this month?

(I’ll give you a minute in case you want to “refresh your recollection.”)

A jury deliberated for less than an hour before finding in favor of the defendants. Andre M. Forte, the Cheelsmans’ lawyer, said the jury looked at Lucky’s history of human interaction in determining whether the couple was negligent.

“The past history of my clients’ dog showed he was a lovable dog who never showed a propensity of vicious behavior,” Forte said, describing Lucky as a “big, huge goofball.”

Forte, who has handled other dog bite cases and spoken on the subject, said neighbors testified that the worst Lucky ever did was growl or snarl at them.

Mary Ann Ryan, Davis’ lawyer, said last week that no decision on an appeal had been made. (No notice of appeal was listed in the court record at lunchtime Friday.)

Ryan agreed with Forte that the jury was reluctant to find the Cheelsmans negligent based on Lucky’s history.

“Every dog gets one bite,” she said.

Davis is recovering from surgery unrelated to the alleged attack, Ryan added, but she will soon return to her mail route. That includes the Cheelsman house.

You be the judge (and jury)

The often-contentious relationship between dogs and mailmen is part of popular lore and sometimes covered in bar exams.

And with the bar exam about a month away, we’ve decided to present the following case and let you predict the outcome, which will be revealed in this space later this week.

All of the information comes from documents in a case tried earlier this month in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Continue reading

Where does Law & Order rank?

Count Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy among those mourning the passing of Law & Order into syndication after last Monday’s broadcast.

McCarthy joked Tuesday that he had developed a fondness for Jack McCoy, the main  prosecutor on the long-running television show, played by Sam Waterston.

“Jack McCoy: my role model,” McCarthy said. “The hard-charging prosecutor hopefully doing some justice along the way.”

McCarthy added he regards Law & Order as “the most realistic” of television’s courtroom dramas.

“They did a pretty good job about educating the public,” he said of the program’s writers. “I thought the show was well done, well researched in terms of the law.”

But Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger will shed no tears for the program’s passing.

“I’ve never even seen the show,” Shellenberger said. “It just doesn’t interest me. I’m living law and order every day.”

Where do you think Law & Order ranks on the pantheon of other dearly departed law-related television shows, such as The Defenders, L.A. Law, Night Court, The Practice, Boston Legal and The Paper Chase?

Return of the deli (again)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:a new restaurant has taken the place of the former Court Towers Deli in Towson.

Nearly one month after the Perring Place Express Deli closed, the space was open for business again today under a new name: Crush Cafe. The restaurant appeared largely bare, and there was no sign to indicate its name, but I saw a customer walk in and purchase a drink.

My courthouse sources indicated the new restaurant is owned by the same people behind Crush in Belvedere Square, and that the breakfast offerings are pretty tasty. A Crush employee confirmed the restaurant’s Towson presence and said today was the new joint’s first day.

More details as I learn them. Here’s to hoping Crush Cafe can hang around longer than one of Murphy Brown’s secretaries.

If it’s Straw Hat Day, can seersucker be far behind?

A gloomy day like today feels closer to winter than summer. But warmer days are ahead and, as Frederick Rasmussen points out in his always-entertaining Sunday Sun column, we’re days away from Straw Hat Day.

It seems Baltimore men of a bygone era took out their straw hats May 15, unofficially marking the start of summer the way a Memorial Day weekend traffic jam on the Bay Bridge does today.

“In those days it was the mandatory finishing touch for a man when dressing,” said Eddie Jacobs of the eponymous men’s clothing store. (As far as I know we are not related.)

Jacobs also noted that “June 1 to Sept. 1 was seersucker and cotton season.”

Rasmussen has more:

After an eight-month slumber, out from hat boxes and darkened closets emerged jaunty straw boaters, sometimes called butcher’s, sailor’s or skimmers, and Panamas, with their center crease and thin black band that circled the hat’s crown.

In turn, they became the crowning touch for the lightweight Palm Beach, linen and seersucker suits that men wore in an attempt to deal with Baltimore’s infernal heat.

Loyal readers know exactly where I’m going with this. Be on the lookout!