Judge faces trash fines

Md., Arundel say debris on property still not removed

November 16, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore City District Court judge and real estate developer is facing fines and court action from the state and Anne Arundel County after failing to clean up hundreds of tons of landfill rubble dumped on his property along the Patapsco River.

The state attorney general's office yesterday filed a complaint seeking a $10,000 penalty against Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr., who officials say deposited truckloads of drywall, cinderblocks, broken bathroom fixtures and other landfill rubble along the waterfront of his Riviera Beach house.

Gatewood, owner of a West Baltimore development company, has refused to tell investigators where the debris came from, according to court filings, and a spokesman for the attorney general's office said criminal penalties remain a possibility.

The state's action came less than two weeks after Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold wrote Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, reminding him that the county had discovered the mess more than a year earlier, questioning the commitment of a new state environmental crimes division and suggesting that the judge was receiving "special treatment."

Leopold called the case "one of the most egregious violations of its nature."

State officials bristled at the accusations that they were dragging their heels, saying they had been working diligently on the case for months and had extended the window to file a complaint Gatewood under the statute of limitations. That window was due to expire today.

"The attorney general has made it a priority to crack down on these types of cases, which is why we have to thoroughly, judicially and carefully look at these cases to make sure our due diligence is done," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

County officials also filed a civil complaint yesterday, seeking the maximum $8,500 fine against Gatewood for not obtaining grading permits. The county cannot pursue criminal charges.

"This office has received assurances from the [attorney general's] environmental crimes unit since this past July that it would proceed with criminal charges in this case," said county attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson. "I hope and trust that the door has not closed on the filing of criminal charges in this case."

Gatewood, a Baltimore native, has been a city District Court judge since 1984, and is president and sole owner of Monumental City Realty Corp., a company that has performed publicly financed rehabilitation projects. He has not responded to requests for comment.

His attorney, John F. Dougherty, said he had not seen copies of the complaints and could not comment. He also would not discuss how the rubble ended up on the property, but said previously that Gatewood had been performing shoreline restoration work to repair damage from 2003's Tropical Storm Isabel on his secondary home on Bay Road. County inspectors found no evidence of such damage.

The disclosure of the investigation raised the possibility of other complications for Gatewood, who as a Baltimore City District Court judge is required to reside in the city. But a court official said Gatewood's residency status was in good standing.

His daughter, Nichole, works for the attorney general's office's headquarters in Baltimore, where she serves in the correctional litigation division, which provides legal representation for state officials and correctional employees who are sued by prisoners in federal and state courts.

Guillory said her position posed "no conflict of interest whatsoever. People don't understand how large this agency is - we have 500-plus attorneys here."

In the nine-page complaint filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday, the Maryland Department of the Environment asks for injunctive relief and civil penalties against Gatewood and his neighbors, David and Karen Leimbach, whose property also had rubble along the waterfront.

The Leimbachs agreed yesterday to clean up their property and pay half of a $10,000 fine, officials said. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

The complaint says officials were notified of the dumping after drywall and other demolition debris were spotted floating in the Patapsco River.

During a site visit, an MDE inspector observed tons of debris along Gatewood's 470 feet of shoreline and on about 50 feet of the shoreline next door. It included masonry rubble, asphalt, broken bathroom fixtures, electrical wiring, broken chunks of concrete and a large amount of fine dust.

MDE ordered the property owners to give them the name, address and phone number of the contractor who deposited the materials by the end of last year, and to remove the unauthorized fill by March 7. Neither property owner complied with the order.

The complaint notes that the violations were visible to neighboring landowners and boat traffic.

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