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Court decision blocks transfer of Fort Ritchie

February 06, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The United States Court of Appeals Tuesday ruled in favor of Role Models America Inc. and granted an injunction blocking the planned transfer of land at the Fort Ritchie Army base.

Because of the ruling, the transfer of land from the U.S. Army to PenMar Development Corp. is on hold, Brett Wilson, chairman of the PenMar board, said Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear what the decision means to PenMar's efforts to redevelop the base property beyond that, Wilson said.

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Until it was evicted in June 2002, Role Models operated a government-funded school for high school drop-outs on the property.

The appeal was filed prior to the eviction.

The Court of Appeals, in rendering an opinion, is only allowed to examine the information given to the lower court; it could not, for example, consider the fact that Role Models no longer operates at the base, Wilson, a Hagerstown attorney, said.

PenMar and Army officials had planned a May 20, 2002, ceremony at which the Army was to sign a deed transferring 236 acres to PenMar. But the property transfer was put on hold after Role Models filed for bankruptcy on May 10, 2002.

Role Models President Robert Alexander has said Role Models should have been notified it was possible under federal law to get the Fort Ritchie property at no cost because it was being used for an educational facility.

Instead, starting in March 2000, Role Models subleased 253,000 square feet from PenMar for about $1.3 million a year.

Alexander repeated the allegation in the bankruptcy filing.

Wilson said the Army and PenMar did nothing wrong.

Role Models later withdrew its bankruptcy filing on the advice of an attorney.

Role Model's allegation was part of a July 2001 federal lawsuit against the Army in which Role Models sought a temporary restraining order to block the Army from transferring property to PenMar.

A judge refused to issue the restraining order, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said a local redevelopment agency established by the Army prior to PenMar erred in its advertising process by not providing sufficient advertising and notification about the free land possibility.

The notice published by the agency focused on organizations designed to help the homeless and there was no way for Role Models to know that the possibility could also pertain to their educational effort, the court said in its 10-page written opinion.

The court remanded the case to U.S. District Court, ordering it to issue the injunction. No new hearing will be required, Wilson said.

The ruling does not mean any money is owed to Role Models, Wilson said.

Wilson said he plans to talk to the Army later this week about whether it plans to appeal the decision and what it means to the transfer of land.

The Army spokesman for the area did not return two phone messages Wednesday.

David Richardson, Role Models' attorney, said he was pleased by the court decision. He did not know what impact the decision might have on PenMar.

Alexander could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Role Models no longer has a listed phone number. Richardson said he would call Alexander to see if he wanted to comment on the decision but Alexander did not call.

Role Models operated on a two-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Labor grant that expired May 30, 2001.

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