Carroll ordered to pay legal fees

County must give $20,000 to adult-themed business

May 04, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County Circuit judge has ordered the county to pay nearly $20,000 in legal costs for an adult-themed store that fought county attempts to shut down the business.

Nearly a year ago, Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. ruled that Carroll's law restricting where adult entertainment businesses can open was unconstitutional after the county tried to close Love Craft outside Hampstead. The county is appealing that decision.

Last week, Beck ordered the county to pay Love Craft's attorneys' fees totaling $19,953.76 - including $15,108.50 for legal counsel and $4,845.26 for other expenses.

The judge's recent ruling "was absolutely right because we've taken the position that it was a civil rights case," said Joseph S. Kaufman, one of two Baltimore attorneys who represented Love Craft. "The county tried to put the bookstore out of business."

But county officials were surprised Beck issued a ruling before listening to arguments at a hearing scheduled for this morning.

"This ruling was made without the county having the opportunity to present its position," said county Chief of Staff Steven D. Powell.

The legal battle started in December 2002 when the county cited Love Craft for violating a zoning ordinance spelling out where adult-themed stores can be located.

County officials said the store, in a strip mall on Hanover Pike, also exceeded the county's limit of 20 percent of usable floor area that can be used for "display or storage of matters or devices depicting, describing or relating to sexual activities."

In February last year, a Carroll County District judge granted the county an injunction against the store. At one point, the county asked the sheriff's office to padlock the store and arrest employees.

Love Craft, also known as Carroll Croft Retail, challenged the ruling in Circuit Court, arguing that the zoning law was unconstitutional. Beck agreed and wrote in his ruling that Carroll's adult-business ordinance was "vague and ambiguous, therefore unconstitutional."

Other counties have tried without success to dictate where adult businesses can operate. A month after Beck's ruling in the Love Craft case, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Howard County's adult bookstore ordinance was unconstitutional.

"They're trying to exercise some censorship through zoning, and it's improper," said Kaufman, whose firm, Schulman & Kaufman LLC, also represented Pack Shack, the Ellicott City adult store that challenged Howard County's ordinance.

As a result, Pack Shack also asked the county to pick up the legal costs, and a Howard judge ruled in March that the county has to pay. The amount has not been determined.

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