Frederick County leaders are trying to keep alive a lawsuit against the county as they work out an agreement over the privatization of an assisted living center and nursing home.
In a six-page filing submitted to the court Monday, attorneys for the county argued against dismissing a lawsuit that challenges the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. The county's written submission comes in response to a request for dismissal, filed earlier this month by the people who launched the lawsuit.
As an alternative to killing the suit, the county requested a temporary stay that would put the case on hold while Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner negotiates a resolution to preserve Montevue's mission of caring for indigent residents.
On Tuesday, Gardner said a six-month stay should allow enough time for the talks.
Scrapping the lawsuit days before trial, set for Jan. 20, isn't the best way to reach consensus, the county argued in its filing to Frederick County Circuit Court.
"A temporary stay â€” not a dismissal without prejudice â€” will be more conducive to the Plaintiffs' and the County's shared goal: a comprehensive agreement that will allow the County to continue caring for the old, infirm and disadvantaged citizens of Frederick County at the Montevue health facilities," stated the county submission, signed by county attorney John Mathias and attorneys with the firm Venable LLP.
Members of the Save Montevue group filed the case last year as they struggled to prevent then-county commissioners from handing over the two care centers to a for-profit company.
The first part of the sale was finalized in May as the buyer, Aurora Holdings VII, took control of operations at Citizens and Montevue, now known as Odyssey Assisted Living at Montevue. The county still owns the buildings and the property for the two facilities.
While Save Montevue members were at odds with the last group of county commissioners, the new county leadership is sympathetic to their position against the sale, according to the county's Monday filing.
Before her election in November, Gardner spoke against privatizing the centers, and she continues to advocate for preserving Montevue as a safety net for needy county residents. However, the county is also locked into a contract that the prior board of commissioners signed with Aurora, according to the county's legal submission.
Gardner said these dual responsibilities have her following "two parallel paths," one to fulfill the county's contractual obligations to Aurora, and the other to negotiate a comprehensive solution with the company and members of Save Montevue. Gardner said her goal is to arrive at a settlement that would fulfill her campaign commitments.
In this week's legal filing, county attorneys also argued that the county has invested too many resources in the case to agree to a dismissal.
In the lead-up to January's trial date, the county has produced thousands of pages of documents and responded to questions and requests from the plaintiffs. The county also tracked down expert witnesses and painstakingly researched the history of the property on which Citizens and Montevue stands.
The dismissal requested by the plaintiffs would "negate the many months of work" dedicated to defending the county's right to sell Citizens and Montevue, the county's attorneys argued.
The county's response also notes that the plaintiffs want the freedom to refile the case in the future, leaving the threat of legal action hanging over the county.
Leslie Powell, attorney for the citizens who filed the suit, said she needs to review the county's request with her clients before responding to it. However, there are some important distinctions between a dismissal and a temporary stay, she said. For instance, if the stay were lifted, the case would continue to sap her clients' resources, while a complete dismissal could permanently ease their financial burden.
Powell disagrees that a dismissal would be unfair because of the time and money the county has poured into the case.
"While the county's legal bills have been far larger than our clients', everybody has spent a lot of time and energy on this, and now it's time to spend our time and energy on something else," she said.
Instead, they should be concentrating resources on safeguarding Montevue's mission of caring for poor and disadvantaged residents, she said.
Powell said a judge will decide whether to hold a hearing or issue a written determination on the fate of the case.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.