Judge turns down Harford's request to waive bond in $45 million rubblefill judgment appeal

Harford County government suffered another legal setback Wednesday in its battle to overturn a $45.4 million judgment against the county in the Gravel Hill rubble landfill lawsuit.

A county Circuit Court judge denied the county’s motion seeking to waive a requirement that it post a bond in order to continue pursuing its appeal of the judgment and also denied a motion to stay the judgment while the appeal is pending.

Judge Kevin Mahoney signed an order requiring the county to “post a supersedeas bond in the full amount of the judgment, $45,420,076, plus post-judgment interest.”

"The county is in the process of posting the bond for the judgement while the appeal in this case is pending," spokesperson Cindy Mumby said Thursday. "The county continues to be confident that we will prevail on appeal, and we will seek reimbursement for the cost associated with posting the bond."

Interest of 10 percent per annum on the $45 million has been accruing daily since mid-May, when the trial judge in the lawsuit brought by Maryland Reclamation Associates signed the order entering the judgment that was awarded by a jury on April 17, following a 10-day trial before retired Baltimore City Circuit Judge John Addison Howard.

The county is appealing the judgment to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Since the verdict, Judge Howard has denied a motion by the county to set aside the judgment.

Nearly 30 years ago, Maryland Reclamation, whose president is Richard D. Schafer of Darlington, sought state and county approvals to operate a disposal site for construction debris and demolition rubble on the site of a former gravel pit off Gravel Hill Road in a historic African-American community north of Havre de Grace.

Although the proposed dump received initial county approvals, a change in government leadership in 1990, amid rising community opposition to the project, led to a series of laws being passed to tighter regulate where rubble dumps could be located and set new minimum area and setback requirements that the 55-acre Gravel Hill site could not meet.

Schafer and his partners in the project, several of whom are deceased, long maintained they were targeted by the legislation; however, in a series of legal battles with the county, they ultimately failed to get the area and setback requirements overturned.

Eventually, Maryland Reclamation sought variances to the requirements through the county zoning appeals process, but these too were denied, first at the county level, and then by the courts, culminating in a 2010 ruling against Maryland Reclamation by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

Maryland Reclamation then filed its lawsuit against the county, contending its property was devalued and made worthless by the county through an illegal “regulatory taking.” Efforts by the county to have the lawsuit thrown out were unsuccessful, and the lawsuit finally went to trial in April.

The county Law Department received approval from the County Council to hire outside legal counsel to defend the lawsuit at the Circuit Court level, as well as authorization to spend up to $500,000 on its defense. A final accounting of what was spent by county on legal fees has not yet been released.

The County Council has also authorized the hiring of a Baltimore law firm to handle the appeal of the verdict and judgment. No additional expenditures associated with the appeal have been requested yet by the Law Department. The council, which must authorize such expenses beforehand, is in summer recess and won’t reconvene until early September.

avought@theaegis.com

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