The state's first criminal prosecution of a house painter accused of improperly removing hazardous lead-based paint ended with the judge granting the painter probation before judgment, rather than the stiff penalty the state sought.
Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe yesterday ordered Mark A. Crosby Inc. of 6203 York Road to perform $2,000 worth of free painting as a community service as punishment for violating regulations governing lead paint removal when it repainted the exterior of a Cedarcroft home in the summer of 1990.
But Judge Bothe rejected arguments by the prosecutor that the court should convict and fine the firm to "send a signal" to Maryland's painting and home improvement industries that the state is serious about enforcing its lead abatement rules.
She said that the state ought to be going after "slumlords" whose dilapidated housing may be poisoning poor children instead of prosecuting a painting firm in a case involving a "fancy home and a $10,000 paint job.
"There must be better examples out there . . . I know there are a lot more egregious situations," the judge 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.
George Psoras Jr., lawyer for the Crosby firm, told the judge his client "had no idea that this house contained lead paint" when he and his crew started painting it in July 1990. Mr. Psoras contended that Crosby was meticulous in cleaning up all chips removed.
But Mr. Penner read a statement of facts which stated that the painters failed to wear required protective clothing and used removal techniques that violated the regulations.