A Baltimore County Circuit judge yesterday ordered the county Board of Appeals and the Liquor Board to stop deliberating in private and obey the state's open-meetings law. But she refused to reverse the decision that led to the injunction.
Judge Barbara Kerr Howe said the county could not "pick and choose when to obey the law" and called the defenses it raised "a tempest in a teapot in an attempt to justify the actions taken by the [Appeals] Board."
Maryland law calls for open meetings in zoning and other licensing matters.
Although they hold open hearings, both the Appeals Board and Liquor Board have routinely held their deliberations in private before announcing their decisions.
The injunction came in a case brought by the Valleys Planning Council and others who lost a Board of Appeals decision last spring in their campaign against expansion plans by Villa Julie College in the Green Spring Valley.
The Board of Appeals decided to exclude testimony about a wastewater treatment plant after deliberating in a closed-door session.
It then deliberated the entire case in private before giving approval to a modified version of Villa Julie's plan.
Judge Howe said the Appeals Board apparently acted on the advice of the county attorney's office but "will not be permitted . . . to follow such a path in the future."
She also ordered the county to pay fees for four attorneys -- three representing Villa Julie opponents and one who intervened on behalf of The Sun, which reports on the actions of both boards.
Assistant County Attorney Michael J. Moran had argued that the court shouldn't impose penalties on the county "for making a wrong judgment."
Mr. Moran declined comment after the decision, and County Attorney Stanley J. Schapiro did not return a reporter's phone calls.
Villa Julie's attorney, Benjamin Bronstein, argued against reversing the Board of Appeals' decision because of the open-meeting violations. He said private deliberations didn't make the decision a bad one and noted that the decision already has been appealed.
J. Carroll Holzer, attorney for the Valleys Planning Council and other plaintiffs, said afterward that he was "pleased at the judge finding that the [open-meeting] law clearly applied."
But he said the decision not to reverse the board's decision "doesn't do anything for our clients. It does a lot for citizens of the county."