We, as attorneys for many Howard County residents who circulated a referendum petition to put on the ballot comprehensive zoning changes proposed by Ken Ulman and the Council in July 2013 and whose clients are now subject to developer issued subpoenas for filmed depositions, read your July 24 article ["New controversy erupts in referendum case"] with deep concern.
This is not a case where the developers have alleged anything suggesting fraud and have reported such to the Board of Elections. Even if depositions were appropriate, the developers and their attorneys are not even targeting depositions to a particular circulator or two in an attempt get evidence substantiating their allegations. There is no articulated basis at all. Instead, developer attorney William Erskine, enabled by the court, issued subpoenas and filed for writs of body attachment for 1/4 of all 100 plus petition circulators, one of whom moved to California before being served and would be subject to interstate detainer and extradition back to Maryland. This is unprecedented.
Government officials and the courts cannot side with unlimited money interests (in this case developer interests) to chill speech by 1) hindering the circulation of petitions or the number of voices circulating a petition 2) or engaging in actions to keep something off the ballot.
The Supreme Court exhorts time and time again the right of referendum once established, as in the Howard County charter, that all activities related to referendum such as circulating the petition, are "core political speech for which First Amendment protection at its zenith."
Developers hate that citizens got the needed signatures to put their zoning amendments to a vote. More than derailing the current referendum effort, the developers want to derail all future referendum efforts, through intimidation. Who will ever circulate a petition if they think there is any risk of being hauled in for a deposition and be intimidated by insinuating wrong doing on their part. Without immediate and substantial rectification of these gross miscarriages of justice, the referendum will be dead in Howard County for decades to come.
This letter has been updated.