The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is helping a Bel Air businesswoman get access to her company's files, which were seized bythe county State's Attorney's Office as part of a criminal investigation.
Lisa Schwartz, general manager of the closed Adams Homes Inc., has been under investigation by the prosecutor's office since August 1990, when deputies from the county Sheriff's Department seized company records.
The businesswoman said she welcomes the assistance from the ACLU in her case.
"Just the fact that they're going to work with me in some way will help," Schwartz said. "It's the first thing that has gone right for me in years."
Schwartz has not been charged in the 10-month investigation but has not been able to get her files back. Sheand her Bel Air lawyer, Ted Hart, were granted limited ccess to the confiscated files by a District Court judge last month to prepare fora civil suit against her. "We're also trying to get this criminal investigation halted. It's more of a civil matter," said Hart.
SusanGoering, legal director of the ACLU in Baltimore, said: "We're interested because under what circumstances can a private citizen have personal belongings taken away and not have access to them? It seems strange that these files are being held without any formal charges."
Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said he is willing to meet with ACLU representatives to discuss access to the Adams Homes files held by his office. "(The ACLU) can look all they want," Cassilly said. "I don't know what they think is going to happen."
The investigation into Adams Homes is continuing, Cassilly said. He added that he does not believe the records have been held for an unusual length of time.
The four-page police seizure warrant for Adams Homes, a modular home contractor, listed letters, bank and bookkeeping records,customers' files and computer disks. The seizure and investigation were prompted by the complaints of several Adams Homes customers and contractors, who told police they'd been ripped off by the company.
Several customers and contractors have filed civil suits against Schwartz and the company in Harford Circuit and District courts.
Schwartz, 29, admits that the 5-year-old company made bookkeeping errors but said none of those mistakes was criminal.
She said she wanted to continue operating the company so she could correct the mistakes, but she can't start her business without the records.
Goering saidACLU representatives have met with Schwartz and talked to the State's Attorney's Office to discuss the status of the investigation. Schwartz might be required to follow a formal process that would require filing court subpoenas to get access to her company's records, Groening said.
The ACLU, which handles civil rights cases, is researchingthe legal grounds that law enforcement agencies can use for seizing documents and property in investigations, Goering said.
The agencyhopes to determine if a subpoena would be legally required to get access to the files, she said.
Once the law has been researched, theinformation will be presented to the ACLU's 12-member case-review committee to decide whether the agency will pursue the matter in court,Goering said.