Court clears the way for waterfront house Protesting group lacked lawyer, ruling says

November 03, 1995|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals cleared the way for a couple's waterfront home yesterday by ruling that an Anne Arundel County judge erred when he let a homeowners group fight the project in court without a lawyer.

The state's second-highest court said Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. should have barred the president of the Turkey Point Property Owners Association Inc. from arguing the association's case in October 1994.

State law allows people to represent themselves but requires a corporation to have a lawyer when it appears before a judge, the court said.

The dispute centers on 1.3 acres bought by Mildred P. Anderson and John C. Hoffman of Beaufort, N.C., June 10, 1988. The couple wanted to build a house on the land but first needed a variance from the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals to rezone the property from open space to residential. The board granted the variance, and the homeowners group appealed it.

The couple's lawyer, Anthony F. Christhilf, declined to comment.

Yesterday's ruling angered the association's president, Brenda DeLalla, who argued the case. She claimed the house would block waterfront views for existing homes, destroy wildlife habitat in the area and make it harder for community residents to reach a nearby parcel reserved for community water access.

The site is in a flood plain and is part of a 5-acre marsh that was filled in with dredge spoil and other materials about 25 years ago, Ms. DeLalla said.

Association members didn't know when they filed the suit that a lawyer was needed to bring the case to court, Ms. DeLalla said. By the time they found out, they didn't have money for a lawyer.

"We are a homeowners group with limited funds," Ms. DeLalla said.

She said the property was zoned as permanent open space and was not specified as a home site when Turkey Point was planned as a community of summer homes in 1941. The community has 160 homes on roughly 140 acres, she said.

The property owners group had a lawyer, who was a member of the homeowners association, in the courtroom the day the case was heard, but his presence did not count because he had not entered his appearance in the case in court records and was not a member of the Maryland Bar Association, the appeals court said.

The lawyer, John Earman, 71, said other states let lawyers assist in cases informally without actually signing on as legal counsel and entering their appearances. The rules are stricter in Maryland, he said.

"In Maryland, the trial lawyers want to protect themselves, so they have this requirement," said Mr. Earman, a retired lawyer with the U.S. Civil Service Commission.

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