OPA Redo Election Stalls, Judge Orders Ballot Count

SNOW HILL – Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen issued an injunction this week preventing the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) from proceeding with its “redo election.”

In an ongoing legal battle to determine the eligibility of disqualified board candidate Rick Farr, a hearing was held in Worcester County Circuit Court on Wednesday to discuss Farr’s motion for reconsideration of a preliminary injunction.

On Aug. 30, the court denied Farr’s request for a preliminary injunction to

have ballots for the 2021 board election held while the court considers the complaint brought against the association and its Board of Directors. In his arguments this week, attorney Bruce Bright told Campen his client was now seeking an injunction to halt the association’s redo election.

“It is different in that we are no longer seeking the same injunction we were before,” he said. “We want to prevent the new election from going forward.”

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In early July, ballots containing the names of four approved candidates – incumbent Frank Daly and challengers Stuart Lakernick, David Hardy and Farr – were mailed to eligible voters for the 2021 board election. After voting commenced, however, the association’s former secretary, Camilla Rogers, deemed Farr ineligible after an anonymous tip raised questions about Farr’s homeownership status in the Pines.

In the days that followed, the board voted on a motion to proceed with the 2021 election and ballot count, but to invalidate all votes for Farr. In August, however, Farr filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court challenging those decisions. He was soon joined by several co-plaintiffs alleging they had been disenfranchised after submitting their vote for Farr.

According to the association’s bylaws, candidates must be a recorded property owner within Ocean Pines on Jan. 1 of the year in which the election is held. The association contends Farr was not an owner of record, but a successor trustee to the property listed on his candidate application. Farr’s attorney, however, asserts he has been the “equitable and beneficial owner” of the property since 2000, based on his status as a beneficiary of the Farr Living Trust.

The matter is currently being litigated in circuit court, and a temporary restraining order to halt the board election has since expired, allowing the association to proceed with its election and ballot count.

But on Sept. 30, the association’s Board of Directors voted 4-3, with Daly and Directors Larry Perrone, Colette Horn and Frank Brown in favor, to proceed with a “redo election” of the three remaining candidates. A second motion to proceed with counting the existing ballots failed as the result of a tie vote. Daly abstained.

In his arguments this week, Bright said it was his understanding the initial request for a preliminary injunction was denied so the association could count ballots received through the Aug. 11 election deadline. He asserted the association had led the court to believe that it was eager to certify the election results and avoid the cost of a new election.

“They’ve done these things in a manner that was completely inconsistent with what they told your honor,” he said.

However, association attorney Anthony Dwyer said he had asked the court to not “handcuff” the board.

“There was an expense, but the board decided to hold a new election because these voters claimed they were disenfranchised,” he added.

Most of Bright’s arguments at this week’s hearing centered on the board’s actions since the Aug. 30 court hearing. He also highlighted Daly’s participation in a vote to redo an election in which he is a candidate.

“We’re not alleging fraud,” he said. “In this case, we’ve alleged bad faith …”

Dwyer, however, disagreed, saying,  “They chose not to go in that direction,” he said of the board’s motion to count the ballots. He added, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to interfere with their judgement.”

In closing, Bright asked the court grant an injunction.

“If they are permitted to move forward on this path, everything gets messier and more complicated …,” he said. “There’s no harm to OPA if the status quo in the absence of a new election is maintained.”

Dwyer argued the plaintiff had not met the burden of proof for an injunction.

“Things have changed, but your honor found on all four prongs that the plaintiff hasn’t met his burden, and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “So there’s no reason to reconsider. “

Wednesday’s hearing lasted more than an hour and included arguments from both attorneys in the case.

In his closing statements this week, Campen said he was granting Farr’s request for an injunction, effectively putting a stop to the association’s redo election. Ballots were scheduled to be mailed out to eligible voters on Oct. 15.

Campen noted the board had an opportunity to count the ballots, but instead chose to redo the election.

“I found that action is not in good faith,” he said.

In addition to issuing an injunction, Campen also ordered the association to count existing ballots, including votes cast for Farr, by the end of the month. He said that count could be relevant in how the case proceeds.

“If he lost, it’s moot,” he said.

It should be noted there was some discussion at Wednesday’s hearing about holding the ballot count in private, but it was soon acknowledged the association’s bylaws allowed ballot counts to be witnessed by any association member.

A trial date has been set for Nov. 15. Campen said he hopes to reach a conclusion in Farr’s case at that time.

“We’re going to move this case along,” he added.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.