Md. sheriffs sued over fees charged in traffic appeals

September 12, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Sheriffs across Maryland owe thousands of dollars to drivers who were illegally charged service fees when they appealed their motor vehicle cases to Circuit Court, according to a suit filed yesterday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Rudolph Albert Bowman of Glen Burnie filed a $1 million class action suit seeking to recover "service of process" fees that he claims have been charged by sheriffs for at least three years.

Alan Legum, Bowman's Annapolis lawyer, said sheriffs in Baltimore and the state's 23 counties routinely assess defendants the fees to cover costs for deputies to serve court papers on defendants, witnesses and others ordered to appear for Circuit Court trials.

But, he said, state laws prohibit sheriffs from charging the fee in motor vehicle cases.

"They're just not authorized to do it," he said.

The suit alleges that a 1992 state statute specifically "prohibits sheriffs from charging and receiving any fee in connection with a motor vehicle prosecution."

The suit seeks return of the fees to the drivers.

Lawyers for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees the sheriffs, declined to comment.

Legum said the lawsuit seeks compensation only for those who appealed District Court motor vehicle cases to Circuit Court. It does not apply to cases handled in the District Court because those court papers are mailed to defendants and witnesses, he said.

He said he had no idea how many Circuit Court cases are involved or what amount of damages may be sought when the case comes to trial. The suit only seeks damages for fees assessed in the past three years because there is a three-year statute of limitations on tort claims, he said.

The $1 million damage figure specified in the suit is listed as a hypothetical figure, and the damages claimed when the case goes to trial may be higher or lower, Legum said.

"At this point, we just really don't know the numbers," he said.

Before the case is tried, the lawsuit must be certified as a class action.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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