Judge Leo E. Green Jr. ruled Saturday to grant a request by the Board of Charles County Commissioners’ counsel to block two subpoenas that would have compelled attorney Bernadette Sargeant to turn over documents related to her investigation into the events that led to a lawsuit over District 2 Commissioner Thomasina Coates’ (D) authority to vote on the employment contract of the county administrator, addressing a key remaining point of contention prior to Friday’s scheduled evidentiary hearing.
As TLR previously reported, Coates’ attorneys were seeking to obtain copies of all related internal and external correspondence, transcripts and recordings of interviews with county employees, and even contractual and billing records related to attorney Bernadette Sargeant’s investigation into events that took place between June 2019, when County Administrator Mark Belton filed an internal complaint alleging an “abusive hostile work environment” instigated by Coates, and December 13, 2022, when Coates, Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D), and Commissioners’ Vice President Ralph E. Patterson (D) attempted to vote to fire Belton during a closed board session.
In his written ruling, Judge Green agreed with the argument of the board’s legal counsel that denying (in legal parlance, “quashing”) the subpoenas “represent[ed] an ideal opportunity for the Court to reign in [sic] what otherwise promises to be further bloating of an already tortured litigation history.”
“The court made this abundantly clear in the hearing on January 24, 2023. What has been decided and found is found,” Green wrote. “We are not going back but forward! To allow discovery down this path is extremely costly and will not reveal material that is relevant to this proceeding which is injunctive relief.”
District 3 Commissioner Amanda M. Stewart (D) and District 1 Commissioner Gilbert Bowling III (D) filed the lawsuit in December 2022 seeking a declaratory judgment to determine the commissioners’ authority to vote on employment actions related to Belton.
In addition to the documents from Sargeant, Coates’ attorneys sought to compel testimony from County Attorney E. Wesley Adams III, alleging that Belton “directed and closely monitored the Sargeant investigation,” that Adams was “deeply conflicted in his involvement in the Sargeant investigation and the proceedings against Coates,” and that Sargeant “was in fact working for and under the direction of Belton and Adams.”
In his ruling, Judge Green did not directly address another motion also filed by Coates’ legal team seeking to compel Adams to answer questions that had been posed to him in a contentious deposition at which both Belton and Coates were also present.
Green praised the conduct of the attorneys representing the parties in the case, but added that “[a]s the court looks at these discovery motions, the court cannot help but think that we have gone down a path that can and will incur great expense. The ruling on these pending motions hopefully will put this case on the right path for resolution.”
“As the court sits in his study, he is unsure how he will rule and looks forward to the fine arguments of counsel at a hearing on September 8, 2023,” he wrote.
As TLR reported on Facebook, the hearing had originally been scheduled for July 28 before Judge Green granted a last-minute request by Coates’ attorneys for an extension (called a continuance) to September 8.
Judge Says Case has “Profound Implications”
Judge Green opened his written ruling — which, he noted, he wrote himself “without a law clerk or secretary” — with a candid summary of the issues as he saw them.
“During this summer, the court has contemplated this case many times in many places, recently on the sands of Ocean City,” Green wrote. “This case has perplexed the court in ways he has not experienced in his over twenty years as a judge. The issues have profound implications to not only the commissioners but most importantly to the citizens of Charles County.”
“Governments all over make mistakes,” he added, adding that he himself “certainly was a party to several” during his five-year tenure on the Bowie City Council. “In this matter the Prompt and Remedial Action (‘PRA’) adopted by the Charles County Board of County Commissioners in June of 2020, lacked both a sunset provision and sufficient sunshine.”
Green also noted without elaboration that an election took place amid the events at issue in the lawsuit. As TLR has reported, the Board of County Commissioners kept silent about the censure of Commissioner Coates, and the reasons for it, for over two years — including throughout the 2022 election, during which all five of the board members involved would likely have faced tough questions from the public.
As it did with the July 28 hearing, TLR will request the Court to consider live-streaming the hearing due to the high degree of public interest in the case. If the Court does so, TLR will cover the hearing live and will also share the streaming link on its Facebook page, which readers are encouraged to follow for interim updates.
Download the Court Documents Discussed in This Post
2: Exhibit A, “Transcript of Edward Wesley Adams, III,” July 19, 2023
3: “Defendant Charles County Board of County Commissioners’ Motion for Appropriate Relief,” August 14, 2023
4: “Reply to Plaintiff Commissioners Response to Board’s Motion for a Protective Order and to Quash Foreign Subpoenas and Defendant Coates’ Motion to Compel Testimony of County Attorney E. Wesley Adams,” August 25, 2023
5: “Memorandum and Order of the Court,” September 2, 2023