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Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal from two adult bookstores; Ruling stands that Harford County officials cannot be sued in raids


WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court refused yesterday to hear the appeal of two Harford County adult bookstores that are trying to sue county officials over raids on the businesses.

The court's refusal lets stand lower court rulings that Harford prosecutors and deputies cannot be sued for their roles in the raids.

The petition to the Supreme Court is the latest round in a decade of litigation over police raids on the two Edgewood bookstores, both of which have closed.

Harford County deputies raided Edgewood Books and U.S. Books in June 1989 and seized about 1,900 items, including adult videos, magazines and novels.

State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly earned a reputation as an anti-pornography crusader in the 1980s with highly publicized raids and prosecutions. He and Deputy Sheriff J. R. Taylor began planning the raids on Edgewood Books and U.S. Books after "citizen complaints," according to Assistant State's Attorney Jefferson L. Blomquist.

Court records say that Cassilly and Taylor consulted with Baltimore County officials, who had recently staged successful raids of adult book stores in their jurisdiction. On the advice of Baltimore County officials, Taylor went into the Edgewood bookstores and bought two magazines at each.

Based on the magazines' content and on Taylor's observations in the stores, he and Cassilly obtained a search warrant, citing violations of a Maryland law regarding the display of adult materials.

The bookstores sued Taylor and Cassilly, among others, over the raid. But the civil suit was put on hold by the courts while the criminal case against the bookstores was pending.

Larry Hicks, the corporate trustee for the two stores at the time of the raids, was convicted of illegal display of adult materials. That conviction was overturned in 1994 by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which said that there was not sufficient evidence that Hicks was the owner of the stores.

After the criminal conviction was overturned, the civil suit against the Harford County officials was allowed to proceed.

A U.S. District judge ruled that the officials were immune from civil prosecution, because they were acting in their official capacities as law enforcement officers in the raid. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld that ruling in August.

William Seekford, the attorney for the bookstores, said he plans to press on even though Hicks, his original client, died last year.

Seekford said he wants to challenge other aspects of the Harford case, which he said makes it "OK for police officers and state's attorneys to get a search warrant and seize" materials illegally.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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