Judge denies landowners' class-action complaint


A Harford Circuit Court judge has denied a class-action complaint against Harford County by landowners who were required to deed a portion of their land for some of the cost of immediate and future road improvements in order to subdivide their property into more than five building lots.

In a written opinion Tuesday, Judge Maurice W. Baldwin granted the county's motion to deny class-action certification to Joseph J. Wielepski of the 3600 block of Day Road in Darlington and his brother and sister-in-law, Stanley and Janet Wielepski of the 3500 block of Day Road.

The Wielepskis first sought to subdivide their land into nine or more building lots in 1991. When obtaining permits, they learned that 1990 county subdivision regulations would require them to pay about $97,000 to the county for road improvements.

They said the additional development costs pushed their project above its market value, so they abandoned their plans and began a series of appeals.

The landowners won a ruling in the Court of Special Appeals in January 1994 that the county's assessment fee was an illegal tax. But the Maryland Court of Appeals set aside the lower court's ruling in October and essentially sent the Wielepskis' case back to Circuit Court.

In between those two court decisions, attorneys for the Darlington landowners had sought class-action status, saying that as many as 250 property owners and developers could have legal recourse to be reimbursed by the county.

Besides denying the class action, Judge Baldwin also ruled in favor of the county's four-count motion to dismiss the case.

Regarding the plaintiffs' contention that the county's assessment fee was an illegal tax, the judge said the issue was moot because the county's subdivision regulations had changed.

Counts in the suit that related to the refund of money to the plaintiffs were not permitted, the judge said, because the plaintiffs had to first seek the refund.

On the allegation pertaining to the county's violating federal and state constitutional rights of the landowners, Judge Baldwin said the Wielepskis had shown enough evidence to prevent him from dismissing the lawsuit against the county. But the judge said they still must seek a refund from the county, not go to court for it.

Richard K. Jacobsen of Catonsville, one of the lawyers representing the Wielepskis, said Friday that there was a good chance that his clients would appeal Judge Baldwin's decision on the class-action complaint. "It's interesting that the judge left open the possibility that people who had to turn over a portion of their property as a prerequisite for obtaining building permits may still have a claim against Harford County," Mr. Jacobsen said. "There's still hope for them, because who knows how an appeal of the class-action suit will be decided?"

In another Circuit Court matter last week:

* An Edgewood woman was sentenced Monday to serve 10 days a five-year sentence in the Harford County Detention Center after entering an Alford plea to charges that she fraudulently collected welfare checks between June 1, 1992, and Dec. 17, 1992, and lied about it, court records show.

Circuit Judge Maurice W. Baldwin ordered Deidria B. Kirksey, 27, of Edgewater Drive in Edgewood to begin serving her sentence July 14 and to pay more than $4,000 in restitution.

In making an Alford plea, defendants do not admit guilt but concede that the evidence is against them, prosecutor William G. Christoforo said.

Judge Baldwin found Baldwin guilty of welfare fraud and making false statements to welfare authorities. He sentenced her to three years on the first count and made the five-year sentence on the second count concurrent.

The judge suspended all but 10 days and placed her on five years' supervised probation, but said that period could be ended as soon as she paid $295 in court costs, $250 to the public defender's office and $3,889 to the Department of Social Services as restitution.

According to the statement of facts, the woman was employed while she collected monthly welfare payments and did not report her earnings to welfare authorities.

Moreover, Mr. Christoforo said the defendant denied in welfare applications that she had any income.

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