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Frazier v. Taneytown open meetings lawsuit to go before Maryland Court of Appeals in October

Taneytown, the Fraziers and open meetings will once again be before a Maryland court in October, after the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, agreed to hear an appeal from Robin Bartlett Frazier, the wife of Taneytown Councilman Donald Frazier.

Robin Frazier sued the city of Taneytown on Aug. 8, 2016, arguing the city violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act by failing to hold an open meeting before holding a closed meeting June 22, 2016. A Circuit Court judge ruled in the city’s favor in 2017, and the Court of Special Appeals upheld that decision in late 2018 — both courts acknowledged the city violated open meetings regulations, but ruled this was not “willful.”

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Attorney John Garza, of the Rockville-based Garza Law Firm, confirmed through a spokesperson he will be representing Frazier before the court in October, but offered no other comment.

“I’m excited that Maryland’s Court of Appeals will be weighing in on this very important case,” Robin Frazier wrote in a media release. “The judge in our trial made some errors which we have been trying to get overturned. The most important error was over the definition of the word ‘willful’ in the Open Meetings Act.”

The original incident behind the lawsuit was a closed meeting held by the Taneytown mayor and council on June 22, 2016, a meeting held to discuss the threat of litigation by Councilman Donald Frazier. Elected in 2015, his term on the council has been marked by conflicts with city staff and other elected officials, an official censure and changes to the city code to allow his removal from office under certain circumstances.

Donald Frazier ran unsuccessfully for Taneytown mayor in 2019 and will leave office Monday, May 13.

But in 2016, Robin Frazier and Katherine Adelaide, a political ally of the Fraziers who ran an unsuccessful campaign for county commissioner in 2015, heard of the closed meeting and went to Taneytown city hall in order to attend the open meeting in which the mayor and council would vote to go into a closed session.

Both Robin Frazier and Adelaide told the Circuit Court that they were turned away from the meeting.

In 2017, Judge Lawrence Daniels ruled that the city had violated the open meetings law by not giving proper notice of the open meeting or listing the mayor as an attendee of the closed meeting, that none of the violations were willful. He told Frazier that she put on a good case but that he was waiting for her to pull out a smoking gun, and she never did.

In December, the Court of Special Appeals found that the Circuit Court had made an error in ruling the city had held an open meeting before its closed session, but again sided with Taneytown, with Judge Melanie Shaw Geter writing in an opinion that “we find the court’s error was harmless and non-prejudicial” because the mistake was unintentional.

Reached for a comment about the appear reaching the Court of Appeals, Taneytown Mayor James McCarron was optimistic that his city would again win the day in court.

"I have every confidence that we will prevail as we have on the other two appeals,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any change in the decision."

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