The former owner of a crumbling, condemned building in downtown Frederick has no ownership rights to the house now in the hands of the city of Frederick, according to the latest court opinion in a long legal battle.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in its Oct. 6 opinion, upheld the prior decision of a Frederick County Circuit Court judge allowing the city to foreclose on Allan Pickett’s right to redeem ownership of his former home at 20 W. Fourth St. In March 2014, then-Judge Danny Brian O’Connor gave the city rights to redeem the two-story brick house, but Pickett appealed the decision several months later.
Pickett has also filed a separate appeal to stop the city from tearing down the deteriorating rear wing of the house, asking a Circuit Court judge to reverse the city Historic Preservation Commission vote that allowed for the demolition. A decision from the court is pending after arguments were heard in September.
In the ownership case, Pickett contested several details of the circumstances of the city’s request to foreclose his right to redeem the property, including that:
• The sum of unpaid taxes and property liens he needed to pay to redeem ownership of his property was incorrect.
• He should have been credited for a deposit on that redemption fee paid to the Circuit Court clerk.
• The Circuit Court order didn’t allow him to redeem his property before his right of redemption was foreclosed.
• O’Connor should have recused himself from the case because he previously served as a court-appointed mediator between Pickett and the city in a separate condemnation case about the same property in 2005, before the judge was appointed to the bench.
The Court of Special Appeals dismissed all four of Pickett’s claims, affirming O’Connor’s opinion that Pickett no longer owns or has the ability to redeem ownership of the property. The appeals court has not yet issued a mandate for its opinion, which closes the case and triggers a 30-day window for Pickett to appeal the decision to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
City Attorney Scott Waxter said he did not know when the mandate would be issued, but expected Pickett to appeal the intermediate appellate court’s decision.
“I would imagine that he’ll wait until day 29 or 30 and then appeal,” Waxter said in an interview Wednesday.
Paul Jorgensen, the attorney representing Pickett before the Court of Special Appeals, did not return phone messages for comment on the opinion or whether his client planned to appeal.
Waxter also noted that Pickett’s appeal doesn’t mean the case will automatically be heard in the next level of court, as it did for the Court of Special Appeals. The state’s highest court can choose which cases it decides to hear, meaning Pickett’s request for a hearing may be denied.
Nikki Bamonti, executive assistant to the mayor, described the city’s reaction to the special appeals court opinion as cautiously optimistic.
“We’re the closest we’ve ever been with this property, but we still have some legal issues that need to be addressed,” she said.
The decision is the latest in a nearly 20-year saga surrounding the property, which has been vacant under Pickett’s ownership since 1993, The Frederick News-Post previously reported. The city condemned the house in 1996 after Frederick police and officials found the building open and unsecured, filled with trash and fecal matter, and there was evidence of fires.
The city tried to sell the property at a tax sale in 2004, but was unsuccessful after the prospective buyer backed out after several years of legal challenges from Pickett. After a second tax sale in 2011 yielded no offers, the city paid to have the tax certificate assigned to it.
The house was built in 1865, according to state property tax records. Pickett bought the property for $41,000 in 1982, and lived there for one week before renting it out, according to court records previously obtained by The News-Post.