Maryland's highest court has thrown out Carroll County's latest appeal to restrict adult-themed businesses, saying in a written opinion that even though there were procedural errors from all parties in the convoluted history of the two-year-old case, ultimately county attorneys failed to file the required paperwork in a timely manner.
Because of what a county attorney called "a procedural lapse," the county lost a chance to appeal a 2003 Circuit Court decision in favor of the Love Craft store outside Hampstead. Love Craft is an adult-themed business that sells, among other items, condoms, adult videos and lingerie.
County attorneys still have two appeals awaiting review by the Maryland Court of Appeals. One challenges Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s ruling in August 2003 that the Carroll zoning ordinance that threatened to shut down the store was "vague and ambiguous, therefore unconstitutional."
The county also filed an appeal challenging Beck's judgment awarding about $20,000 in attorneys fees to Love Craft.
"We're certainly disappointed in the court's ruling," said County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender. "There was obviously confusion at the time, with three appeals pending. At least there are two substantive appeals pending."
Joseph S. Kaufman, one of two Baltimore attorneys representing the store, said the Court of Appeals decision "should end the case. Judge Beck clearly ruled that the county ordinance was unconstitutional, and there was no timely appeal in that decision. There have been a lot of attempts by the county to get out of Judge Beck's ruling. I personally think that's the end of the matter. The county would be wise just to forget this."
Kaufman stood by the defense's argument that the county's actions amounted to restriction of free speech.
"I think any type of censorship is wrong," he said.
His firm, Schulman & Kaufman LLC, successfully defended another adult-themed store in Howard County. There, county officials tried to shut down Pack Shack, an Ellicott City adult store, through its adult-bookstore ordinance.
In September 2003, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Howard County's ordinance was unconstitutional. In March, a Howard County judge ordered the county to pay Pack Shack's legal costs, estimated at $200,000.
The Carroll County opinion released by the Court of Appeals last week stated that "there is no appeal properly before us. We therefore have no choice but to dismiss the writ as improvidently granted."
Calling the case "a procedural nightmare," the Court of Appeals criticized county and defense attorneys, as well as the Circuit Court, for "erroneous rulings, assumptions, and arguments."
The opinion is the latest development in a series of meandering legal maneuvers that began in December 2002, when the county cited Love Craft for violating a zoning ordinance that determined where adult stores could be located.
In February 2003, a Carroll County District Court judge granted the county an injunction against the store, located in a strip mall on Hanover Pike.
Love Craft appealed the decision to Circuit Court, where in August 2003 Judge Beck overturned the injunction, calling the ordinance unconstitutional.
The county then appealed the decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court. In May, the Maryland Court of Appeals took the case.
After Beck's ruling, Love Craft filed a request for reimbursement of attorneys fees and other expenses associated with the case. In May, Beck let stand his decision, ordering the county to pay $19,953.76 in legal fees.