MARYLAND

Judge critical of Ike Leggett, Board of Education over Nick's Farm

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A Montgomery County judge charged with ruling on the Brickyard Road school site case, commonly known as Nick's Farm, issued an order where he criticized County Executive Isiah Leggett and the Board of Education.

Judge Robert A. Greenberg never issued a ruling on the case, which involved allegations against the Board of Education and the process to lease the land so soccer fields could be built.

Days after the county pulled the lease, Greenberg considered the case "moot" and is now heavily criticizing county leaders for their treatment of Nicholas Maravell, the farm's caretaker.

"The county's actions -- and the Board's -- resulted in an enormous waste of private, county, and state resources," Greenberg said.

The harsh words were part of an order issued April 19 in which Greenberg denied Maravell and Curtis Uhre, a concerned citizen who is part of the petition, rights to attorneys' fees.

In the same order, Greenberg adds Maravell was "treated quite shabbily by those responsible for passing the resolution at issue, as even several Board of Education members acknowledged at the time of the lease resolution was passed."

On Feb. 19, Leggett unexpectedly surrendered the lease to the site. At that point, Leggett did not explain why he withdrew the lease. Today, his spokesman, Patrick Lacefield told ABC 7, Leggett withdrew the lease after receiving a disapproving letters from a number of state legislators.

Greenberg questioned the county's decision to drop the lease, when he said, "…after many months of litigation, and on the cusp of a final decision by the court, the county suddenly decided that the lease -- initially claimed to be so beneficial that it to be rammed through the Board of Education before a more thorough and thoughtful public discussion could take place -- was not quite so vital to the county and its soccer-playing youth."

“Montgomery County pursued the public interest with the belief that public land should be used for public purposes, not for private commercial gain -- just as called for in the Potomac Master Plan,” said Lacefield in a statement.

Greenberg admitted he did not know why Leggett and the county changed course.

"Perhaps the decision to abandon the lease was a matter of political expediency, or maybe county officials read the judicial tea leaves and believed the county would ultimately not prevail before this court," Greenberg wrote in his order.

Greenberg also said that regardless of whether the Board of Education's frequent closed door meetings were legal or not, the entire episode "left the oft-state and under-exercised notion of government transparency with a black eye."

Attorney's for the Board later conceded that several of those meetings were held in violation of the Open Meetings act.

Despite all this, Greenberg did not concede Maravell and other petitioners attorneys' legal fees they wanted because Maravell was taking the legal route "for the purpose of renewing or reinvigorating his expired lease, or gaining negotiation position to do so.

"In that way, he could continue to farm the school board's land at a substantially below-market rental, in a county where farmland is dwindling."

He adds, "perhaps understandably, the Petitioners had no desire to see an influx of soccer players and parents regularly invade their affluent Potomac neighborhood."

But attorneys' fees should not be paid with taxpayer monies because the claims where personal in nature, he said.

When asked for a response to the judge’s criticism, Board of Education spokesman Dana Tofig said, “We are delighted that judge determined that the neighbors who didn’t want soccer fields next to their houses were not entitled to taxpayer dollars to pay for their lawsuits and legal actions.”

"It would be wonderful to continue to have an organic farm in the heart of Potomac, and maybe that will come to pass," Greenberg said. "For now, however, this tract of land belongs to the Board of Education.

"It is likely that some day, in the not-too-distant future, a middle school will sit on this sit. There will be automobiles and school buses, noisy adolescents, outdoor tennis and basketball courts, and lots of traffic."

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