Group wins round in effort to preserve Blandair farm

Judge allows foundation to examine lawyer's files

April 18, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A private foundation fighting to preserve a 300-acre farm in Columbia scored a legal victory last week that could prevent the property from becoming a regional park.

Even though the outcome is months away, the latest action will give lawyers representing the Elizabeth "Nancy" C. Smith Foundation more ammunition in their fight to preserve Blandair farm.

The foundation, established by friends of the reclusive Smith, is suing Smith's heirs to prevent them from selling the farm to Howard County, which has plans to build a park, replete with soccer fields and nature trails.

On Wednesday, a Howard County circuit judge ruled that foundation lawyers can examine files kept by Smith's attorney, Debra G. Schubert. They can also question Schubert.

"It is reasonably apparent that Ms. Nancy Smith intended to place Blandair into a trust for conservancy purposes," wrote Judge James B. Dudley.

Foundation lawyer Douglas G. Worrall hopes to find documents that will prove Smith wanted to preserve her farm but didn't have time to sign the will before she died.

"We know what we're going to find -- documentation reflective of her desires," Worrall said.

Without a signed will or other official documents that show Smith's intentions, Worrall is arguing that she had promised -- essentially creating a contract -- to give the farm to the foundation.

Worrall needed a court order to question Schubert because lawyers may not divulge information gathered from clients. That protection, known as the attorney-client privilege, usually extends past death.

In this case, Dudley ruled that Smith waived attorney-client privilege during her life because she talked openly about her wishes.

Lawyers for the heirs could not be reached for comment Friday.

The case will be heard July 27. Another case, filed by the heirs objecting to the foundation using Smith's name, will be heard Aug. 31.

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