This installment will pick up where we left off with Betty Smith Adams and the Howard County development crew.
I know… you’re thinking that I couldn’t possibly be able to make a direct connection to any other Howard County judicial monkey business. (There will be several judges who are probably holding their breath to see who’s up next, so without any further delay…)
You’ll remember from post ONE in this series that the Adams Family did an adjoinder deed that put them into bed with (oops, I mean in business with) Mr. Donald Reuwer and Mid-Atlantic Development.
Okay, let’s get it over with and bring out the elephant in the room (or county):
CATTAIL CREEK COUNTRY CLUB
There, I wrote it, and I can see from the write-ups from the days when the Baltimore Sun wasn’t afraid of writing about Howard County that there was a lot of bad blood in the county about that planned housing there for spry (and privileged) 55 year olds of the county who loved golf or hobnobbing with those who do. And yeah, I’m aware that it got REALLY stinky… from sewer problems from bad planning and poor (possibly rushed) development. More about those issues in a subsequent, planned post.
Make no mistake, there were some heavy hitters invested in that project over at the country club. According to an article written by the Sun from 1993, there was a group of 46 who each invested $25,000 each to acquire the land, etc that would be used (according to David Carney who was a part of it and was quoted for the story). That partnership agreement between them can be found at the end of this article. You’re gonna notice that the agreement is in the name “Howard County Golf & Country Club Limited Partnership”. That’s what it used to be called when it was first created.
On to the list of enthusiastic investors on this list. Some of the names are/were:
*John Healy (mentioned in last blog post; owner of Anchor Title and BIG LEGAL DUDE to development)
*Charlotte Plush (Healy’s VP at Anchor)
*J.P. Blase Cook (CEO of Harkins Builders; he has a sister named Julia Stamerro)
*John J. Stamerro, who was affiliated or married to Julia
*Joseph Irrgang (who’s apparently known as “Terry”… owner, Eldersburg Building Supply Inc)
*Frank Neubauer (SVP Commercial Lending for Columbia Bank)
*Stephen L. Shane (Builder’s Gypsum Service Inc) lots of houses, lots of drywall needed
*Theo Rodgers (ex VP of H.G. Parks, Inc) Parks Sausage company big-wig
*Milton Borkowski (Westinghouse exec who complained on wiretaps about having to give donations for golf charities)
*G. Nelson Clark (principal at Clark, Finefrock and Sackett, Inc… planners and engineers)
*Donald B. Sackett (principal at above, which was an investor in “Owen Brown Joint Venture”..the village center, perhaps,.. along with John Healy and George J. Sybert)
And then there’s… James Dudley, Howard Circuit Judge!
Let’s dig a little more into this, starting with Dudley. He was a District Court judge for only ONE YEAR (actually a few months less than) before ascending to the Circuit Court! (he was a member of the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission from 1980-86 before that, helping to place judges at the appeals court level). He was then a Circuit Court judge for four years when the 1993 article (CLICK HERE) came out about the Cattail Creek Country Club finally being opened, and having been spearheaded by David Carney and Judge Dudley. A little inappropriate of a partnership, in my opinion, but okay.
But David Carney from Reese and Carney (as in… DEVELOPMENT GALORE), who has clearly put together this elite powerhouse of 49 development-ish folks together, gets to sit at the head of the table when it’s time to select a new circuit court judge for Howard County (due to retirement of Judge Sybert who we’ll discuss momentarily)? As you can see here, he was the Commission’s Chair, and what’s this…he also sat with J.P. Blase Cook (remember him from above?) and Fred Silverstein (previously identified as the “big cheese” over at Offit-Kurman-Development-Land who evidently has a perpetual seat on that Commission).
So that’s how it’s done, huh?
So Judge Dudley was in business with Carney and crew to make Mr. Rogers’ (no disrespect to partner Theo who spells his name differently) perfect neighborhood over at Cattail Creek, with a sprawling golf course as the focus! Now, looking at his required financial disclosures, we see that he disclosed that he was on the Board of Directors for the Limited Partnership, drawing no compensation. (ie, “nothing to see here”)
It’s doubtful that anyone would cough up the particulars for who was invested in the “H.C. Country Club Inc”, but one can certainly see those limited partners. Noticeably absent from the judge’s disclosure was the FINANCIAL INTEREST in the entity…yet, one certainly existed in the 1.1 million dollar endeavor.
And, by the time that Cattail Creek Country Club had opened and in 1993, Dudley was still reporting NO FINANCIAL INTEREST IN IT. He did disclose a 1/3 interest in a “Fiddlesticks Limited Partnership” to develop 10 acres with two other people. Shout out to the headquarters of the Judiciary in Annapolis for literally covering up the principal office address of that business entity on my copy!
The Governor at the time (Glendening) appointed Donna Hill Staton to the Howard County Circuit bench (bypassing the recommendation of the nominating commission, which a Governor can do but, how dare he!), and folks were none too happy about that. You see, 177 Howard County attorneys sent their vote for who should be circuit court judge to the nominating commission, and we already saw who was on THAT committee! So, Betty Smith Adams became the campaign manager for Lenore Gelfman, and helped to run the most expensive, mud-slinging judicial campaign in Maryland history. And in a move that perhaps revealed how it really worked in Howard and who was really running things, Betty and the Gelfman campaign apparently defies the order of the Howard County Bar Association then-president Silverstein to cease and desist from running TV commercials that claimed an endorsement that wasn’t correct… in other words, “a lie” as the story CLICK HERE reported.
Oh wait! Isn’t that cute (and typical)! So “..a member of the bar association’s executive board, David S. Harvis, attacked the idea of pulling their ads.” David Harvis, as in the law partner of hubby Dick Gelfman and judge Gelfman’s brother David Greenberg!? (Remember Becker’s deed with the commercial condo he bought into before becoming a judge?) It’s all one big happy family, isn’t it?
I’m going to save the discussion about the circuit court case that was heard by Gelfman that involved her campaign manager’s business interests for the next post. I think it prudent to note however that for that campaign that was filled with ethical conundrums that I don’t believe were EVER addressed, it really became clear who really runs things in Howard. According to this article, the nominating commission that sent up Gelfman and Becker’s names were going to automatically be renominated them when Sybert retired. Who else was on that nominating commission? Jonathan Scott Smith, who went on to be the running mate of Gelfman for her nasty campaign. Here’s the article:
Anyone thinking that it’s “the people” who are selecting circuit court judges in Maryland, should have that illusion destroyed by now.
But, let’s back up and collect a few other people here before wrapping up this story. First, a necessary pause:
It’s never fun to bring up the dead. Part of you feels some kind of way about mentioning someone who can’t talk back about what is said or written. Fortunately, I can let two people talk for him. Judge Cornelius Sybert, prior Howard County Circuit Court judge. Judge Gelfman, his “longtime friend”, revealed to the Baltimore Sun reporter that Sybert “..looked like a judge and a jurist”. Not sure what that means, since she doesn’t LOOK like one to me, and yet…
And then there’s Judge Becker, who referred to Sybert in the story as the “Prince of Elkridge” because “..he had a lot of business from the town”. Well, apparently HE would know, since the story reports that Becker had been a law partner of Sybert’s. Becker goes on to say that Sybert “..handled land development, zoning and business cases.” You can read everything that was written by seeing the story at the end.
So… land development… zoning… no surprise there.
And while the level of interconnectedness was a surprise, here’s what wasn’t a surprise: Sybert had been a senior partner of Sybert and Adams from 1983-1987 right before being plucked to be a circuit court judge by the then-Governor.
E. Alexander Adams. Husband to Betty Smith Adams.
Though I cannot find the EXACT date that Sybert was taken from the office of Sybert and Adams and sworn in as a circuit court judge in 1987 (he was appointed Sept 22nd), I can’t help but notice that it was July 31, 1987 when the Reuwer/Adams marriage occurred.
When you look deeper still, you find more surprises.
If Judge Cornelius Sybert was the Prince of Elkridge, one wonders what that made his brother George?
You know, George… the one in business with Clark and Sackett. What wasn’t written above was his close affiliation with John Healy. If you take a looksie in the deed system, you will find a boatload of Howard County deeds under the name “George Sybert”. Many of them are from being co-trustees with Healy on commercial mortgage deals for clients involved in the building of substantial portions of Columbia. It wouldn’t have been on my radar at all except for the fact that the judge’s obituary mentioned that he had a brother George Sr who was from Baltimore, MD.
Now, just because folks may have heard more about Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr of the Howard County Circuit Court and his daddy C. Ferdinand Sybert who was at the Maryland appeals court, didn’t mean that George wasn’t significant. He certainly was! In providing JUST ONE of the many land deals involving Sybert and Healy, one can see his importance… George was actually one of the personal guarantors for a 1985 mega deal involving 7 acres of land being commercially developed in Owen Brown. Atlantic Title Company was one of the go-to title companies back in that day for such deals. Both Healy and George Sybert were working that gig over at Atlantic. Oh, and hi Charlotte Plush… I see you too, over there notarizing. Must have been great being in Howard County in the 80s!! (and then some)
George, who cares about being a “prince”, because you were a “king”, if indeed you were the same George Sybert referenced in the judge’s obituary. Searching for “George Sr of Baltimore”, all I found was mention of a George Sr and Jr who had gotten into some SERIOUS trouble a few years back for apparently stealing about 6 million dollars in title company shenanigans. Here’s the story:
The story specifically mentioned his brother being the judge in Howard County.
I suspect that no one will ever know what made the judge choose to leave the bench years before any mandatory retirement provision was going to make him leave the circuit court. I’m not sure how a person that has so many connections with the development world in Howard County is able to effectively sit on the bench and preside over cases in which they or their family members have a direct financial interest. I mean, how did that work with Dudley being invested in something over at the country club where Sybert’s old law buddy and partner, Adams, was also affiliated and connected? Or were they both sitting in the lunch room at work at the Howard County Circuit Court playing fiddlesticks? Did the judge (the prince of Elkridge) properly recuse himself from cases? Did Dudley? One wonders if anyone even knew that they needed to? When you add Sycamore Valley Partnership into the equation (and who knows who else is behind that besides Reuwer) you can’t possibly have accountability or a fair shake in Howard County (unless, you are part of “the club“).
Sybert, who revealed his financial interest in Elkridge National Bank in a 1986 disclosure, had been appointed trustee by the court before becoming a judge in order to sell property in foreclosure FOR the bank.
C. Merritt Pumphrey, then-clerk of that same courthouse, also disclosed HIS interest in that same bank (a Director) in HIS disclosures. Pumphrey, just a clerk, had several properties of his own… including one on Route 108 that eventually became the subject of a certain later comprehensive rezoning amendment request by its current owners: Lenore and Richard Gelfman.
THAT’S the job to have in Howard County! Anything at that courthouse to get your foot in the door!
It would seem that the only way a judge CAN get around recusal questions, is to fail to make the required disclosures that would force them to have to (which there are now several documented cases of).
The public deserves to have complete information, but gaps and deliberate withholding of information make it almost impossible to figure out whether ties may be impacting their courtroom work. Deliberate withholding also erodes public confidence in the judiciary.
Note: Research for this segment also revealed a troubling fact that potentially affects the integrity of the deed system in Howard County. Searching for “George” revealed a George J. Sybert who signed as a notary for Atlantic Title; a George J. Sybert who signed along with Healy as a co-trustee for a Costain Washington, Inc. deal; a George P. Sybert who signed as co-trustee with Healy for Venture; and then a George P. Sybert whose signature Charlotte witnessed for the “Venture” deal that he personally guaranteed.
I don’t know… don’t those signatures look just about the SAME? Was it the same person? I suspect that some people don’t want people to care…
Attorneys reading this story who’ve been heard to say that “that’s the way things work in Howard County…”, it would appear that you’re right!
The entire country club document