Judge dismisses suit filed by man jailed over fine Mechanic $8.50 short was held overnight

November 03, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel County judge has dismissed a $500,000 negligence and false arrest lawsuit filed against the state by a Manchester man who was jailed overnight because he couldn't pay a parking fine.

In an order received yesterday in Carroll Circuit Court, Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. dismissed Gary C. Cronin's complaint.

The brief order said the 28-year-old sheet metal mechanic failed to prove that he had been harmed when he was jailed because he showed up in court $8.50 short to pay a fine and costs imposed for a parking ticket.

Mr. Cronin filed the lawsuit in Carroll Circuit Court in June. The suit said Mr. Cronin "was subjected to the extreme humiliation of being photographed, fingerprinted, searched, re-searched and strip-searched."

Mr. Cronin pleaded guilty on Aug. 6, 1992 to a parking violation in front of his house on Main Street in Manchester. He said he was told by a Manchester town employee that the maximum he would have to pay was $10, and that he brought $16.50 to court that day.

Carroll District Judge Donald M. Smith fined him $10 and imposed $15 in court costs, leaving Mr. Cronin $8.50 short of what he needed to settle the case. Judge Smith declined to give Mr. Cronin an extra day to come up with the full amount and ordered him to serve a night in the Carroll County Detention Center.

"This case is so ridiculous, I can't believe something like this can actually happen," Stephen S. Winegrad, Mr. Cronin's attorney, said at the time. "This guy is a decent, hard-working, blue-collar guy who has never been in jail before."

But Judge Thieme's dismissal of the three-count negligence and false imprisonment lawsuit may be short-lived, thanks in part to a phone call made by the assistant attorney general who represented the state.

Judge Thieme, who got the case after all three Carroll circuit judges recused themselves from it, issued his order after reading the pleadings filed by both sides. A court hearing was not held, even though Mr. Winegrad had requested one.

According to Julia M. Freit, the assistant attorney general, a judge can't dismiss a lawsuit without a hearing.

"I know it sounds strange that I would want the order struck and to have a new hearing, since he ruled in my favor," Ms. Freit said yesterday. "But I believe this issue could come up at an appeal."

Ms. Freit said the case was clear-cut and that she expected to win any appeal. She said Judge Smith did nothing wrong and noted that, even if he did, he has absolute immunity from civil lawsuits.

Mr. Winegrad said he is prepared to appeal the dismissal and is prepared to ask for a hearing before a judge other than Judge Thieme.

Judge Thieme could not be reached yesterday for comment.

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