The former owner of a condemned town house in downtown Frederick continues to challenge the city’s ownership of the property.
In the latest motion of a decades-long legal battle over the house at 20 W. Fourth St., former owner Allan Pickett asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to reconsider his ownership rights to the property. In its Oct. 6 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the March 2014 decision of then-Frederick County Circuit Judge Danny Brian O’Connor, letting the city foreclose on Pickett’s right to redeem property ownership.
Paul Jorgensen, the attorney representing Pickett before the Court of Special Appeals, filed a motion for reconsideration Thursday, the last possible day in the 30-day window after the court released its opinion. City of Frederick legal staff received the motion Monday, and provided The News-Post with a copy Tuesday.
As stated in the motion, Pickett has asked the court to reconsider the case based on O’Connor’s alleged conflict of interest.
In the original appeal, Pickett argued that O’Connor should have recused himself. O’Connor previously served as a court-appointed mediator between Pickett and the city in a separate condemnation case regarding the same property in 2005.
The Court of Special Appeals had dismissed this argument because Pickett had no evidence showing O’Connor had personal bias or prejudice against him. These are the grounds for a judge to disqualify himself or herself from a proceeding, according to the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct.
The motion to reconsider, however, states that the Court of Special Appeals “misquoted and distorted the appropriate legal standards for recusal.” It also states that O’Connor “had a lengthy prior involvement with the parties as a mediator, and was exposed to their heated disputes, personalities and motives.”
The city cannot respond to the motion unless asked to by at least one of the three judges who concurred in the opinion, according to state code.
Because the city hadn’t been asked to file a response as of Tuesday morning, Assistant City Attorney Scott Waxter declined to comment except to say he saw no record or evidence that O’Connor participated in mediation to the extent the motion describes.
Jorgensen and O’Connor also declined to comment on the pending request for reconsideration.
The Court of Special Appeals hadn’t issued a mandate for its opinion, which would close the case and trigger a 30-day window for Pickett to appeal the decision to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The Court of Special Appeals must now decide to grant or deny the reconsideration request before it can issue that mandate, according to state code.
The motion comes on the heels of the Circuit Court opinion from a separate appeal Pickett filed to stop the city from tearing down the rear wing of the house. Frederick County Circuit Judge Theresa M. Adams last week upheld the city Historic Preservation Commission’s decision to allow demolition of the structurally unsound rear wing. Pickett may appeal or ask the court to reconsider its decision within 30 days of the Nov. 4 opinion.
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.
The city condemned the property in 1996 after Frederick police and officials found the building open and unsecured, filled with trash and feces. There was evidence of fires.
It then tried unsuccessfully to sell the property at a tax sale in 2004, but 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.