Four candidates had legal troubles, records show

September 03, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Four candidates for Carroll County's Board of Commissioners in the Sept. 12 primary election had criminal records or other violations, according to court records and legal documents.

Michael D. Zimmer, a Mount Airy lawyer who is running as a Republican candidate, was sanctioned in 2003 by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, an arm of the state's highest court that tracks complaints against lawyers, according to documents obtained by The Sun.

Republican candidate C. Eric Bouchat was convicted of second-degree assault and battery of his ex-wife in 1997, according to court records. He was sentenced to 60 days at the Howard County Detention Center, on work-release, he said.

A Manchester firefighter, Republican candidate Wade E. Miracle, was convicted on two separate charges of writing bad checks in Harford and Baltimore counties and making a false statement to an officer in the early to mid-1990s, court records showed. The checks were worth more than $300, records show.

Dave Greenwalt, another GOP candidate, was charged in 1994 with failing to pay wages to his secretary at the Mount Airy News, court records stated. In a 1996 settlement, the court ordered Greenwalt's Ad Pro Inc. to pay $3,550 to the former secretary, Betty Furmage.

Zimmer, 42, an Eldersburg resident, was reprimanded for not informing clients of split fee arrangements between himself and Stephen P. Bourexis, a Westminster attorney. Bourexis referred cases to Zimmer, starting in the summer of 2001, documents stated. Zimmer said the sanction by the commission "was a case of not doing my job, I made a boo-boo here."

Zimmer was also charged with failing to file a lawsuit on behalf of his client before the three-year statute of limitations expired, according to the documents.

"I don't believe the lawsuit was ever filed because I screwed up. I'm not happy about it but it's there," he said.

Raymond Groves, Zimmer and Bourexis' client, had injured himself on the job at a Frederick bank in March 1999, Groves said.

The sanction from the Attorney Grievance Commission will remain on Zimmer's permanent record.

Bouchat, 38, a Woodbine resident, who was also convicted of assault as a 16-year-old, said the 1997 charges were false and some of a dozen charges his first ex-wife filed against him as they went through a divorce.

The Howard County District Court judge also held his prior juvenile charge against him in the 1997 case, Bouchat said. He unsuccessfully appealed the case but is seeking a pardon from the governor, Bouchat said.

"I knew it would be an issue when I decided to run," Bouchat said. "That's why I've always been open and honest about it. This system really needs reform."

During his divorce proceedings, Bouchat said he filed for bankruptcy in his aircraft welding business, which he has since revived.

Miracle, 36, got two years probation and a six-month suspended sentence for the bad check charges. "I just made mistakes when I was younger," Miracle said.

In mid-August, Miracle also filed a suit against Porky's Family Restaurant in Hampstead. In the suit, he is seeking $200,000 in damages after alleging that he was poisoned with chemicals in his breakfast food. Greenwalt, 53, said he had forgotten the details of his lawsuit with the Mount Airy News secretary when asked about the records.

"She left on her own accord and won the case," he later said. Incumbent Commissioner Dean L. Minnich was a defendant in a motor tort case in 1999. The case involved an automobile accident that killed his mother, Minnich said. He represented her in the case as executor of her will.

Minnich and the other two incumbent Republican commissioners, Julia Walsh Gouge and Perry L. Jones Jr., have jointly faced county lawsuits. The bulk of those suits - 16 in total - grew out of the commissioners' year-long moratorium on residential growth, which expired in June 2004.

No Democrats were cited in court records or legal documents. The commissioners spent $191,000 on outside legal fees in fiscal year 2005, all but $70,000 spent on growth deferral lawsuits, said Vivian D. Laxton, the county's spokeswoman.

If you exclude those moratorium lawsuits, legal fees haven't risen under the current commissioners, Laxton said. Last year, those fees totaled $85,750. That's $20,000 less than the previous board spent in fiscal year 2002.

"The county attorney's office collects income in debt service that more than covers these legal fees," Laxton added.

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