40 protesters support midwife trial postponed

August 16, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Some 40 residents, including parents and their babies, went to the Carroll County courthouse in Westminster yesterday to lend support to a Pennsylvania midwife charged with practicing nursing without a license.

They left after a sheriff's deputy and two Westminster police officers ordered them to move from the courthouse steps because, by standing around and talking, the group was in violation of Westminster's parade and picket ordinance.

Many of the same people plan to return to Westminster for the midwife's trial, which was postponed. Judy Mentzer was charged with practicing as a nurse without a license after assisting a Carroll County couple in a home birth. A new trial date has not been set.

Groups can't assemble in Westminster without a police-issued permit, according to a decades-old ordinance. And, thanks to a decree from Carroll Circuit Administrative Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., no one is allowed to protest on or near courthouse property.

"The bottom line, they're not going to protest on the courthouse steps," said Sgt. Richard Bader, the sheriff's deputy in charge of courthouse security, who ordered the dispersal.

Joe Draego, of Crownsville, and the other advocates of home birth said they found their ouster an infringement of their rights.

The parade and pickets ordinance has its origins in the World War II era. The same ordinance prohibits carrying the flag of a nation with which the United States is diplomatically hostile.

Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said the ordinance probably doesn't outlaw gatherings of people, but he defended the city's requirement for a picketing permit.

"One woman's picket could turn into another's 200-member demonstration," the mayor said. He said to make a distinction based on the number of pickets would be arbitrary and unfair.

The group is not certain whether it will apply for a protest permit.

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