Citizens for Adequate School Facilities was hoping to appear before Howard County Circuit Court Judge James B. Dudley to argue against a County Council decision to grant exceptions to construction regulations for a new high school in Marriottsville.
But its director, Chuck T. Lacey, instead found himself before the judge Friday forced to defend his right to second-guess the council's decision.
"The question is: Can anybody be here at all," Dudley said.
Lacey's group, made up of residents near the Marriottsville new high school site, had asked for a judicial review of a decision the council made in February granting an 11-foot height and 5-foot setback variance for the school.
Members say the exceptions were incorrectly allowed, without any study of their effect or regard for the county's general plan.
But the council filed a motion to dismiss the request, which meant lawyers for both sides had to appear before Dudley on Friday to hash out whether they would ever get to discuss the basis behind the exceptions.
"I thought this was a slam dunk, your honor," County Council attorney Paul T. Johnson said in explanation of why it wasn't necessary to address the concerns of Lacey's group.
"There is no statutory authority for this appeal."
But Allen Dyer, Lacey's lawyer, claims there is, though it is only implied.
"We have to interpret the Howard County charter and regulations in a way that is constitutional," Dyer said.
"In order for it to be constitutional, it has to provide for judicial review."
Johnson argued that as a legislative decision, the council's resolution is not subject to appeal because there is no specific provision for such action in the county's charter.
"It's an arrogant position to take and foolhardy in the long run," Dyer said. "It just engenders litigation ... and delays construction of the high school, regardless of where it's built."
School system representatives, who have more at stake than the County Council, have accused the citizens group of trying to delay the school by pointing out site faults and encouraging the system to build on bigger property.
Lacey contends the proposed site is inadequate because of size and septic issues and has hired environmentalists and experts to make his case.
But the school system has dismissed many of the concerns, pointing to its own experts and a need to get the school built as soon as possible to relieve crowding.
Dudley said he will rule soon on the motion to dismiss, although he didn't offer a timeline.