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Fraser Smith's Essay: January 24, 2013
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January 24, 2013
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge has ruled that Maryland officials violated competitive bidding rules in a $1.5-billion project that included replacement of a aging state office building. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith comments in his weekly essay.
“Court cases can go on for a long, long time.”
In Charles Dickens’ famous novel Bleak House, an inheritance case went on and on involving generations of lawyers and others who waited out their lives while motions were filed and arguments were made and re-made. Lives were left on hold. The results left a bitter taste in many mouths. Various players in the dreary drama died. Little if anything useful resulted.
Could something similar occur in Baltimore? A Circuit Court judge has found the state guilty of failing to follow procurement laws in a 1.5 billion dollar development plan. The state argued that the law allowed them to proceed without the bidding. Its argument did not prevail.
So, will the project be shelved? If so, how and when will the old state office building on Preston Street be replaced as the state says it must be? Is more court action likely? Or will that simply keep the suit alive?
Meanwhile, you have to wonder if there will be any winners beyond the lawyers. The surrounding neighborhood stands to get none of the hoped-for advances: new apartment buildings, new retail outlets and better transportation from an improved inter-modal system. All of this is on hold at best.
The suit was brought on behalf of downtown interests which want the state to soak up some of the unoccupied office space around them. Will the O’Malley Administration redirect its planning to meet the wishes of the center city interests? Or will it wish to avoid the appearance of rewarding the winners of a law suit?
As the winners argued, the state’s procurement law is important. It should be scrupulously adhered to. The state says it did so. At the same time, judges err. The state must now weigh the likelihood of winning an appeal versus starting over.
It must decide knowing that “court cases can go on for a long, long time.”
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