Annapolis may not appeal loitering ruling

Cost is factor in decision to end legal challenge

April 03, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Annapolis' fight to preserve its anti-loitering law - struck down Friday by a federal judge as unconstitutional - is likely to end without the city filing an appeal.

Five city council members - the required majority - are expected to vote against appealing the ruling of Judge Catherine C. Blake in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. That includes Alderman Joseph Sachs, a Republican from Ward 4 who voted in favor of the law, aimed at curbing open-air drug markets. The law passed the city council, 5-4, in October 1999.

"I don't think we should spend any more money in that direction," said Sachs, chairman of the council's finance committee. "We have a judge who has issued a ruling. If we are going to spend more money, we should spend more money trying to eradicate drugs, not fighting more lawsuits."

Sachs said yesterday that he voted for the measure because its sponsor - fellow Republican Alderman Herbert H. McMillan from Ward 5 - asked for his support.

Because the judge agreed with the arguments made by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three city residents in February last year, Sachs said he is unwilling to take the chance of losing again on appeal.

"I have to say I think it would be inexcusable for a council member who voted for this law to back away from an appeal," said McMillan, who announced his candidacy for mayor last month.

City Attorney Paul Goetzke had always "made it clear to the council that an adverse ruling in the U.S. District Court was likely," McMillan said. "The city's legal strategy has always been predicated in success in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court."

The ACLU will petition the U.S. District Court to have the city pay its more than $220,000 in legal fees in the case, a practice allowed under federal law in constitutional questions. As of the first week in March, the city had paid about $34,000 to Funk & Bolton, a Baltimore law firm it retained to help fight the lawsuit. That figure does not include the free legal counsel received by the city from Miguel Estrada of the Washington law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, or the time of city staff.

"Quitting now is like leaving a card game with all your money on the table and you have a great hand," McMillan said.

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