Order To Expunge Man's Record Could Cause Downpour

Others Might Seekto Have Files Destroyed If Appeals Case Is Lost

December 29, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

State officials are considering whether to appeal a Carroll judge's ruling requiring them to expunge the records of abuse allegations against a Westminster man.

If so, losing the appeal before a higher state court could set a precedent for thousands of other Marylanders whose files have been maintained to come forward and have those destroyed, said Helen Szablya, director of public information for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

"Our biggest concern is having people come forward," she said.

Carroll Circuit Court Judge Raymond E. Beck ruled Tuesday that Elliott Burgher, 57, was "entitled to have certain information expunged from the records" of Carroll County Department of Social Services and the state DHR.

During a two-year battle, Burgher has fought to havea November 1989 file -- in which DSS ruled out any possibility of his abusing his mother -- removed from county and state records.

"I am totally elated," Burgher said of the decision. "I was very well pleased with the opinion that (Beck) wrote. It serves very well for thecommon man and the common person who gets caught up in the system and has difficulty getting out -- when they shouldn't have been there in the first place."

County DSS Director M. Alexander Jones and Assistant Director Alan Katz were out of town Friday and unavailable forcomment.

"Right now it's a non-precedent decision," Szablya said,noting that others wanting their records expunged still must go to court. "That's good for us."

She said the agency hasn't decided whether to destroy the records or file an appeal.

The judge's decision followed an hour-long hearing earlier this month.

The county andstate agencies argued they had the right to decide when and if to destroy their records. Such records, they argued, are needed to protectvulnerable adults.

Even though Burgher's mother, Elizabeth Burgher, has been dead since July 1990, the state could keep the eight-pagefile until at least 1994.

Beck concluded the information on Burgher was needed at one time "and it is not needed now." He said the specific information is not irrelevant.

Burgher said Beck's decision was just.

"He weighed all the information and came down on the side of fairness and justice," Burgher said. "Hopefully, we can correct a lot of these problems."

Burgher said he plans to testify before the Maryland General Assembly during its upcoming session to urge state lawmakers to pass a law similar to one approved last session that prevents the state from maintaining records of unfounded child abuse for more than 120 days.

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