Wife of Witzke Funeral Home director charged with unlicensed practice Defense argues law is ambiguous ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

October 23, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

In Friday's local section, a story appeared about the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home in Ellicott City. That funeral home is not affiliated with the Leroy M. and Russell C. Witzke Funeral Homes in Columbia and Catonsville.

The wife of a longtime Ellicott City funeral director is facing criminal charges that she made burial arrangements without a state license.

Alene Collins Witzke, 63, is charged by the state Board of Morticians with two counts each of practicing mortuary science without a license and misrepresenting herself as a mortician.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mrs. Witzke is the wife of Harry H. Witzke. She is an officer and director of the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home in the 4100 block of Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City.

Circuit Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. denied a motion by Mrs. Witzke's attorney to dismiss the charges on Oct. 14.

The ruling clears the way for Mrs. Witzke to stand trial on Oct. 30. The defendant, who has pleaded not guilty, would face a maximum sentence of one year in jail or a $1,000 fine for each count if convicted.

The state morticians board filed the charges against Mrs. Witzke ear lier this year after getting complaints from two customers of the funeral home, records say.

The customers reported that Mrs. Witzke presented them with papers to sign authorizing embalming and funeral services after a discussion about the arrangements, records say. The customers said they never met with Mr. Witzke, a licensed mortician, records say.

Mrs. Witzke told an investigator representing the morticians board that she usually does not handle funeral arrangements "unless everyone else is busy," records say.

Mrs. Witzke could not be reached for comment.

Defense attorney Thomas Lloyd of Ellicott City argued in court papers that the charges should have been dismissed because the state law regulating morticians is "unreasonably" vague.

But prosecutor Barton Walker III, said the state law is clear about what people who do not have a mortician's license are prohibited from doing.

"Contrary to what the defendant contends, the defendant performed tasks that are more than merely typing, filing, or reading or giving printed matters -- she offered, and entered into an agreement, to provide funeral services," Mr. Walker said in documents.

Mr. Walker is an assistant state's attorney from Carroll County assigned to prosecute the case to avoid any conflicts the case may pose for Howard's prosecutors.

Mr. Lloyd said the state law does not define funeral arrangements, nor does it prohibit certain people from making such arrangements. Lawyers who call a funeral home to discuss arrangements or a minister who performs a funeral service could be violating the law.

He added that anyone who works at a funeral home -- from a hostess who greets mourners to the driver of the hearse -- could be violating the law.

"The duties of their jobs are limited by law, but very unclearly," Mr. Lloyd said. "They are unsure whether actions, such as greeting mourners, answering routine questions about the business or making available information on prices for its services could make them criminally liable."

The attorney noted that Mrs. Witzke routinely handles office operations of the funeral home. She has never been involved with embalming or handling any bodies.

By limiting the duties of funeral home employees, the law hurts businesses by requiring them to hire additional licensed morticians to manage routine matters, Mr. Lloyd said.

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