Judge affirms ruling on legal fees

County must pay $20,000 to adult-themed store

Officials fought to close shop

Carroll County

May 11, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County Circuit Court judge let stand yesterday his decision ordering the county to pay nearly $20,000 in legal costs for an adult-themed store that successfully fought county attempts to shut down the business.

In his written ruling, Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. rejected the county's arguments that the law does not allow the Circuit Court to consider and grant Love Craft's request for attorneys' fees.

Beck cited cases in which the courts have awarded legal costs under a federal civil rights law - which gives the courts discretion to grant the prevailing party reasonable attorneys' fees.

"As Love Craft prevailed on a constitutional issue at trial, its request for attorneys' fees under this statute is proper," Beck wrote.

Nearly a year ago, Beck ruled that Carroll's law restricting where adult-entertainment businesses can set up shop was unconstitutional after the county tried to close Love Craft. The store was in a strip mall on Hanover Pike outside Hampstead.

Although the county is appealing that decision, Beck ordered the county last month to pay fees totaling $19,953.76 - including $15,108.50 for legal counsel and $4,845.26 for other expenses.

At a hearing last week, the county asked Beck to hold off on his decision because the county's appeal is pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

But Beck wrote, "This Court was not precluded from considering a collateral matter, such as a request for attorneys' fees."

Joseph S. Kaufman, one of two Baltimore attorneys who represented Love Craft, said he was pleased with Beck's decision.

"The opinion of Judge Beck reinforces our claim that censorship by a governmental entity is improper," said Kaufman, whose firm, Schulman & Kaufman LLC, also represented a Howard County adult store in a similar case.

The county is disappointed by the ruling, said Carroll County Chief of Staff Steven D. Powell.

"We will meet with attorneys to review what options are available to us," Powell said.

The legal dispute started in December 2002 when the county cited Love Craft for violating a zoning ordinance designating where adult bookstores and similar businesses can be located.

In February last year, a Carroll County District Court judge granted the county an injunction against the store.

Love Craft appealed the decision to Circuit Court, where Beck ruled that Carroll's adult-business ordinance was unconstitutional because of its vagueness and ambiguity.

A similar scenario played out in Howard County, where officials tried to shut down Pack Shack, an Ellicott City adult store, through its adult-bookstore ordinance.

In September, a month after Beck's ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Howard County's ordinance was unconstitutional.

In March, a Howard County judge granted Pack Shack's request for legal costs associated with the case. The amount has not been determined.

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