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Baker not responsible for former company’s debt, Md. appellate court rules

Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (File photo)

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (File photo)

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is not responsible for a loan made when he was executive director of Community Teachers Inc. in 2003 because the collection agency did not prove he signed loan documents, the state’s intermediate appellate court held.

The Court of Special Appeals on March 15 determined it was not abuse of discretion to discount the testimony of a handwriting expert who said Baker, a Democratic candidate for governor, had signed the agreement and was personally responsible for the outstanding balance of the $50,000 loan.

Baker denied any knowledge of the loan and said he would not have personally guaranteed payment, according to the unreported opinion. He also said the organization was “adequately funded” by a foundation and would not have needed the loan, the opinion states. The email address on the application was one used by the chief financial officer of Community Teachers, the opinion states.

The trial judge, relying on Baker’s demeanor on the stand, ruled it was likely someone else had used Baker’s personal information to apply for the loan and called Katherine M. Koppenhaver, the handwriting expert, “less than convincing,” according to the opinion.

The debt collector, Cadles of Grassy Meadows II LLC, argued on appeal the judge did not give sufficient weight to the expert testimony and the determination she was not persuasive was clearly erroneous.

“We are not at liberty to second-guess the trial judge’s first-hand observations of either Ms. Koppenhaver’s or Mr. Baker’s testimony,” Judge Timothy E. Meredith wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The case is Cadles of Grassy Meadows II LLC v. Rushern L. Baker III, No. 242, Sept. 2017.

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