City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway abruptly dropped a $21 million lawsuit against Examiner columnist Adam Meister Monday, conceding that she had, as he'd reported, claimed a Baltimore County house as her primary residence.
"I want to thank Belinda for suing me," Meister told reporters after a brief court hearing, stripping off a white dress shirt just outside the courtroom to reveal a red-white-and-blue campaign T-shirt for Nick Mosby, who is challenging Conaway in the 7th district.
"If it were not for your frivolous lawsuit, you would have zero primary opponents, and nobody would have known about your house in Randallstown," Meister said.
Meister's column had accused Conaway of living in the Randallstown home instead of in an extended-family household in the city she represents. Through her lawyer, Conaway reiterated that she lives in Baltimore.
"Belinda Conaway is a City Councilwoman and proudly lives in the city," Conaway's lawyer, Thomas J. Maronick Jr., told reporters.
But at a hearing called on Meister's motion to dismiss the suit, Maronick told Circuit Court Judge John P. Miller that the case could not go forward because Conaway had, in fact, signed a document stipulating that the Randallstown address was her primary residence for tax purposes. Maronick said she had signed the document by mistake years ago and did not see it again until after filing the lawsuit in May.
"We did not actually see that document initially," Maronick told the judge.
Meister, sitting in the gallery, could be seen mouthing, "It's on the Internet."
Back in March, Meister's online column linked to a copy of a deed indicating the house was Conaway's primary residence. But Maronick said he questioned the authenticity of the document.
"I have seen lot of things get doctored," Maronick said.
Meister said he obtained a paper copy of the deed and posted an image of it online. But other property records were available straight from government websites. Baltimore County property tax records are online and indicate that Conaway and her husband received a county homestead tax credit for the property last year that amounted to $708.71.
Asked about the online government records, Maronick said, "We didn't get the genuine article until very recently."
Conaway attended the hearing along with her husband, Milton D. Washington, and her father, Circuit Court Clerk and mayoral candidate Frank Conaway. She declined to comment.
The suit, filed in May, accused Meister, the Denver-based newspaper chain and the chain's owner, Philip Anschutz, of libel, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. No one represented the Examiner or Anschutz at the hearing.
Meister was represented by C. Alex Hortis and Christopher Mellott, both of Venable LLC. Meister indicated that the lawyers represented him pro bono, but he noted that he still had to pay court costs and spend a lot of time on the matter. He declined to say how much the court costs amounted to.
"I'm a pretty frugal guy," he said. "A penny spent on defending myself against something so bogus is too much."