Howard prosecutor will not advance criminal charges against register of wills

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Howard County’s top prosecutor will not pursue criminal charges against county Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane, who was accused of letting a group use his access key card to enter the closed county courthouse on a Sunday.

State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino found no “admissible evidence” in a complaint filed by a Mount Airy woman who was a supporter of Macfarlane’s opponent in this month’s election.

“I did not do this lightly,” Broccolino said of his decision to not proceed with prosecution. “I was appalled by his [Macfarlane’s] lack of judgment, especially in this day and age where courthouse security has to be paramount.”

The sheriff’s office, which investigated the matter after a deputy found the group in the courthouse, has called the incident a “significant breach” of security.

Macfarlane, 35, a Democrat, was charged with a misdemeanor on Election Day, the same day he elected to a third term.

Melissa Gruner, a Mount Airy resident who supported Macfarlane's challenger, filed a complaint on Nov. 5 that prompted a District Court commissioner to issue a summons charging Macfarlane.

Prosecutors screen all citizen complaints to evaluate the case and determine whether it should go to trial, according to the office’s website.

“The biggest problem with the case was who to even call,” Broccolino said. “No names were taken of who was there. Who were were supposed to call? ‘Ghostbusters’?”

The state’s attorney’s office filed a memorandum in Howard County’s District Court Tuesday stating the case will be not prosecuted, according to a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office.

When reached Thursday, Macfarlane said he had not received a copy of the memorandum and declined to comment. He previously called the allegations politically motivated.

Macfarlane is still due to appear in court Jan. 8 -for a hearing.

During non-business hours, a group was found at the inside entrance of the county Circuit Courthouse by a sheriff’s deputy on Sept. 30, according to a statement from Sheriff Bill McMahon.

The group entered the building with Macfarlane’s access key card, according to McMahon. Macfarlane was not present.

It remains unclear who was in the group and what they were doing in the courthouse.

Outgoing state Sen. Gail Bates mailed a letter on Oct. 27 to Howard County Circuit Court Administrative Judge William V. Tucker expressing her concern after being approached by a constituent.

Bates, a Republican who represents parts of Howard and Carroll counties, wrote the group could have gained access to court files and other sensitive materials and tampered with them.

Bates and McMahon were both unseated in this month’s election.

Gruner said she filed the complaint after being told of the incident more than once, emailing McMahon for confirmation and seeing a copy of Bates’s letter, she previously said.

Gruner, who publicly endorsed Macfarlane's Republican opponent Shawn Conley on his campaign website, was not instructed to file the complaint, Conley previously said.

“I liked to know why … why they are not pursuing charges,” Conley said Thursday. “I think when you put the whole court system at risk, including the building and [court] documents, you need to be held accountable.”

Conley further said Howard citizens “are owed an explanation.”

Gruner did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Macfarlane secured his seat, defeating Conley by a 2-to-1 margin, according to unofficial election results.

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jnocera@baltsun.com

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