The long-running battle over campaign signs in the District 2 County Council race grew serious Friday when Candidate Dan Klosterman filed a criminal theft complaint against the brother of a rival politician.
State Court Commissioner Albert Praley signed a summons for James Gary Middlebrooks, brother of Candidate Edward Middlebrooks, to appear in Circuit Court on the misdemeanor charge.
Klosterman is accusing James Middlebrooks of removing one of his campaign signs from the corner of Oakwood and Old Mill roads. He said a citizen, whom he refused to name, witnessed the theft and reported it to him.
Edward Middlebrooks said Saturday that his brother "flatly denies defacing signs" and will answer to the charges in court. A hearing date has not been set.
Middlebrooks called the complaint a "last-minute publicity stunt" aimed at trying to resurrect a "campaign that is going nowhere."
"We will not go down into the mud with him," he said. "And if he tries to pursue it, he will get nowhere."
The complaint was filed on the same day that District 2 candidate Michael Serabian issued a press release promising a $50 reward for anyone with information on the rash of sign thefts from his and other candidates campaigns.
Serabian, in an interview Saturday, said the tip leading to the complaint against James Middlebrooks came from a person seeking the reward. He said the witness reported the license plate and car description, which later was traced to James Middlebrook's car.
Serabian and Klosterman said that each has lost about 100 signs during the course of the campaign, and have just grown tired of it. "Curiously, Middlebrooks' signs had been recently mounted at theft locations in the past few days," Serabian's press release says.
"He should know better," Serabian said Saturday. "But he insists this is part of the game."
Klosterman said he doesn't know if Middlebrooks is the only candidate responsible, but he is the one who got caught. He said he wouldn't have run for office if he knew candidates would do this to each other.
"It's the worst thing I've ever seen in politics," he said.
Edward Middlebrooks, however, defended his actions. In the case cited in the complaint, he said his brother was merely replacing a campaign sign that Klosterman had removed earlier. He also said Klosterman and Candidate Joseph Procaccini continually erect signs illegally.
"They think you can stick signs anywhere you want," he said. "They can't abide by the law."
He said Klosterman has placed signs on the private property of Middlebrook's supporters and on state property without permission. He said he has enough evidence to file similar criminal charges against Middlebrooks himself, but said he thinks the issue of signs is "trivial at this point in the campaign."
"I saw him next to my signs Monday night at the Severn Elementary School riding on his motorcycle," Edward Middlebrooks said. "Then my signs were gone and destroyed. If that is coincidence, then so be it. Do I make a big deal of it? No, I just go and put more signs up."
James Middlebrooks, who on Saturday had not received a summons, said he wanted to speak to an attorney before commenting on the situation.