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Decision on hospital should take less than a year

June 14, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals likely will decide a case involving Washington County Hospital's new facility in less than a year, Court Clerk Leslie D. Gradet said Thursday.

A spokeswoman from Gradet's office told The Herald-Mail on Wednesday that the Court of Special Appeals takes six to 12 months on average to decide cases.

"That's not true," Gradet said.

Gradet said judges at the court try to make decisions in most cases within 30 to 60 days of the hearing. A report released last year by the Maryland judiciary says the average length of a case, from argument to decision, in all courts, is 122 days, or about four months.

If the court does not rule by early July, a decision will be delayed until at least September, as the court goes on summer recess during July and August, Gradet said.

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The appellate court heard an argument on Tuesday against a Washington County Circuit Court decision that would have allowed the hospital to move forward with construction of a $255 million facility on Robinwood Drive.

While Gradet would not speculate on how long the hospital appeal case might take, she said it did not fall under any special categories that would affect the decision process.

Some cases, such as those involving guardianship over children, are prioritized and decided in less than a month, while others, such as those in which decisions serve as precedent for future cases, can take longer, Gradet said.

The hospital project has been slowed by a prolonged legal battle with local residents over its plan to relocate to Robinwood Drive.

In November 2006, opponents of the new facility appealed a Washington County Circuit Court decision that allowed zoning variances to the Robinwood Medical Center property. The variances would have allowed construction of the hospital to go forward.

The Court of Special Appeals heard the case Tuesday.

William C. Wantz, the attorney for the appellants, said he was happy with the 40-minute hearing.

"It went very well," Wantz said. "The court asked a lot of very poignant questions."

Michael Schaefer, an attorney representing Washington County Hospital, said he thought the questions about zoning were to the hospital's benefit. He said he's confident that the court will uphold the Circuit Court's ruling.

The hospital - which said this week it has spent about $3 million on repairs and upgrades at its Antietam Street facility since it first was scheduled to move - must wait for legal issues to resolve before starting any construction at Robinwood Drive.

"We just have to hope for a quick solution," Washington County Hospital Vice President Mary R. Towe said.

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