The state wanted to "send a signal" by prosecuting a Baltimore painting contractor for illegally removing lead-based paint from the exterior of a Cedarcroft home.
But Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe sent a message of her own yesterday when she told the attorney general's office it could do more to prevent lead poisoning by going after inner-city "slumlords" instead of prosecuting this case, which she said involved a "fancy home and a $10,000 paint job."
Rejecting the prosecutor's argument for a conviction and fine, Judge Bothe put Mark A. Crosby Inc. of 6203 York Road on probation before judgment for violating regulations governing lead paint removal when it repainted the exterior of the Cedarcroft home in the summer of 1990. The judge also ordered the firm to perform $2,000 worth of free painting as a community service.
"There must be better examples out there . . . I know there are a lot more egregious situations," Judge Bothe said.
Bernard A. Penner, a lawyer in the attorney general's environmental crimes unit, said that the state had chosen to prosecute this case in part because many contractors were not heeding the regulations, despite stepped-up civil penalties levied by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
One member of the painting crew was hospitalized for lead poisoning while the home in Cedarcroft was being repainted, and one of his children also was poisoned, apparently from dust brought home on the painter's work clothes, state officials said. Another painter in the crew also had elevated lead levels in his bloodstream, and a dog owned by the family that hired the painters nearly died from lead poisoning.
Lead, which was widely used in house paint before 1978, can cause learning disabilities and neurological and developmental damage in young children who ingest it, primarily by getting dust on their hands.
Adults exposed to lead, primarily through working with it, can suffer hypertension, anemia, kidney and nerve damage and reproductive problems.