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Judge dismisses much of Role Models' suit against Pen-Mar

January 29, 2002

Judge dismisses much of Role Models' suit against Pen-Mar



By SCOTT BUTKI
scottb@herald-mail.com


A Washington County Circuit Court judge Monday approved a request to dismiss most of a $20 million lawsuit Role Models America Inc. filed against PenMar Development Corp. for its conduct toward Role Models.

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Judge Kennedy Boone, who made the decision Monday, heard arguments Friday from attorneys for Role Models and PenMar on the motion.

Role Models America operates the Role Models Academy for high school dropouts at the former Fort Ritchie Army base. PenMar subleases the land, which is owned by the U.S. Army, to Role Models.

In the suit filed May 21, 2001, Role Models accused PenMar of breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

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Boone approved PenMar's request to dismiss everything but the breach of contract allegation, arguing that the others are duplicates.

PenMar Board Chairman Brett Wilson said Boone made the right decision.

"I'm certainly glad this is paring it down to what it is, and that is a contract dispute," Wilson said.

Role Models' attorney, David Sellinger of Washington, D.C., argued all of the allegations should stand on their own.

Role Models alleges in the suit that PenMar misled the organization about the details of the sublease Role Models signed with PenMar.

PenMar has denied all allegations in the suit.

Robert Alexander, founder and president of Role Models, criticized Boone's decision.

"It is pretty obvious it is next to impossible to get justice in some of the courts in this area. It is really sad that it is so difficult to get justice," Alexander said Monday. "Role Models is asking all the courts of Washington County to respectfully give us a level playing field with PenMar and equal justice. They are the bad guys seeking to take advantage of a school whose primary mission is to divert a few kids from the perils of the streets, teen pregnancy and prisons."

Wilson denied Alexander's allegation.

Alexander said he hasn't decided if Role Models will appeal the decision.

The suit requested $10 million in compensatory damages for actual expenses and $10 million for punitive damages.

The suit said PenMar failed to make $500,000 in repairs that it promised to make, Sellinger said Friday.

Wilson said PenMar will make the repairs when Role Models specifies what work needs to be done.

But Alexander said the repairs, which include the sprinkler system, are clearly defined in the lease agreement.

Wilson declined to respond to Alexander's comment.

The Role Models suit specifically blames James LaFleur, then-PenMar executive director, for some of the alleged problems. LaFleur has since left PenMar for unrelated reasons.

PenMar was created by the Maryland General Assembly to redevelop the former Army base land for business. Some 2,000 jobs were lost when Fort Ritchie closed in September 1998.

Boone is scheduled to preside over another court hearing Friday morning involving Role Models and PenMar.

Role Models is appealing an Oct. 5 decision ordering it to pay $42,366 in back utility bills to PenMar. The order was requested by PenMar.

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