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Lawyer to get day in court against his longtime landlord

Stephen H. Sacks was discussing his motion to revise a pretrial order in his lawsuit over his apartment lease, scheduled for trial Tuesday morning, when a courier entered the courtroom and handed Sacks a blue-and-red striped box.

It was his motion to revise the pretrial order.

Two courtrooms and nearly seven hours later, Sacks got his wish when a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled he could indeed pursue his fraud claim against Canton’s Tindeco Wharf — part of a sprawling lawsuit that, in an amended complaint filed Friday, lists the defense attorney as one of the defendants.

Sacks, a solo practitioner and member of the Maryland bar since 1972, has lived in Tindeco Wharf for 20 years. This is not his first run-in with this landlord: More than a decade ago, Tindeco tried to remove him from the building for “uncured breaches of his lease,” prompting Sacks to file his first lawsuit against the apartment complex, according to court documents.

Sacks dropped that action after he and his landlord reached an agreement allowing him to stay, and eventually signed several lease renewals, according to court documents.

But in October 2011, after failing to come to terms on a new lease, Tindeco informed Sacks that the building would not be renewing the lease when it expired at the end of that year, according to court documents.

Sacks responded with a new lawsuit, filed early in December 2011. He alleges, among other things, “invasion of privacy by peering through his windows without consent, interfering with a large quantity of his mail, aiding and abetting in the theft of his property and instructing the maintenance person to discontinue work on the unit,” according to court records.

Tindeco Wharf, in court filings, denies any attempts to defraud or target Sacks.

“As landlord, Tindeco has a right to inspect the Premises when necessary and to protect its tenants from possibly catastrophic events,” its motion for summary judgment states.

An amended complaint filed in April includes more than 30 counts and runs 93 pages. The most recent complaint, filed Friday, runs 120 pages, said Adam M. Spence, Tindeco Wharf’s lawyer. Spence is also named as a defendant.

Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion was ready to call jurors on Tuesday morning when Sacks raised his concerns over the pretrial order. After a hearing in September, Judge Sylvester B. Cox did not dismiss the fraud counts; however, his subsequent written order did dismiss the counts, Sacks argued in the motion to revise the pretrial order delivered by the courier Tuesday morning.

Both Carrion and Spence questioned why Sacks took so long to file his motion.

“This is very indicative of Mr. Sacks’ delay in doing everything,” said Spence, of The Law Offices of Spence & Buckler P.C. in Towson.

However, Spence conceded that Cox’s ruling from the bench was garbled, prompting Carrion to go back to her chambers and review a tape of the hearing.

Ninety minutes later, she agreed the audio was hard to hear and told the lawyers to appear before Cox for clarification.

“It’s my intention to get this trial started tomorrow,” Carrion said before the lawyers left.

Counting the months

Across the street in Cox’s courtroom, the root of the alleged fraud was rehashed: Sacks’ June 1, 2009, renewal says the lease would run for 18 months, through Dec. 31, 2010, even though the dates span 19 months.

Sacks is contending his lease ran to Nov. 30, 2010, but that Tindeco Wharf fraudulently misrepresented his lease expired Dec. 31, 2010.

As a result of the miscount, Sacks says he was fraudulently induced into signing a lease for an extra 13 months in November 2010; and that, since the lease actually expired at the end of that month, it had automatically been extended through November 2011 because Tindeco failed to give him 60 days’ notice of its intent not to renew.

For the same reason, Sacks alleges, the notice of intent not to renew that Tindeco delivered in October 2011 was untimely.

“That’s not fraud. That’s a typo,” Spence countered. “As an attorney of 39 years [at the time], he should have been on notice.”

Cox agreed.

“It is something to be said for someone with an expertise in these matters,” he said.

“The burden is on them, not me at this juncture,” Sacks responded. “It doesn’t matter if it’s one minute or one day. It’s false.”

Sacks added the extra month’s rent is the damages he suffered and that, had he been given proper notice of Tindeco Wharf’s 2011 decision not to renew the lease, he could have moved.

“He never gave us notice he wanted to move,” a frustrated Spence said. “We’ve wanted him out for four years.”

But Cox, who several times had to ask the lawyers not to talk over each other, decided to leave it up to the jury to determine whether there was fraud.

He then turned off the court recording system.

“Against my better judgment,” Cox said, quickly turning the recording system back on and concluding the hearing.

A more frustrated Spence trudged out of the courtroom as Sacks packed his belongings.

“Good luck, counsel,” Cox said.

Jury selection is scheduled to occur in Judge Carrion’s courtroom on Wednesday morning.