County Judge Rules Against OPA In Election Dispute; Decision Clears Farr, Daly To Begin OPA Board Terms

County Judge Rules Against OPA In Election Dispute; Decision Clears Farr, Daly To Begin OPA Board Terms
Rick Farr is pictured at a candidates forum last summer. Submitted Photo

OCEAN PINES – A Worcester County Circuit judge has ruled in favor of Rick Farr, a disqualified candidate in the 2021 Ocean Pines Association board election.

On Wednesday, Judge Sidney Campen issued his opinion on a complaint filed against the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) and its Board of Directors. In his ruling, issued nearly two months after the trial’s conclusion, the judge granted Farr’s claims for declaratory judgement and ruled him an equitable Pines homeowner and eligible candidate in the 2021 election.

“The Plaintiff, Richard D. Farr, is an equitable owner of the Property, and at all relevant times, was qualified as a candidate for election to the 2021 Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors,” Campen opined, “and The Board of the Ocean Pines Association acted improperly, mistakenly, and without good faith, in contravention of the By-laws, the Charter, and Declarations, by attempting to invalidate Plaintiff Farr’s candidacy, during the 2021 election, after certifying his candidacy and permitting him to be included on all distributed ballots, and after many votes had already been cast and received by the Ocean Pines Association.”

Campen also ordered that the top vote getters, Farr and incumbent Frank Daly, be installed for a term of three years commencing Aug. 15, 2021.

“The 2021 election for the Ocean Pines Board of Directors has taken place,” he wrote in his conclusion. “Despite the unauthorized efforts of the current Board members to influence the outcome of the election, both during and after the final ballots were collected, the Ocean Pines voters have spoken. It is in the best interest of the Association, that the election results stand and the two successful candidates, Richard D. Farr and Frank Daly, are installed as Directors at the next regular or special meeting of the Board of Directors.”

Last summer, four contenders – Daly, Farr, Stuart Lakernick and David Hardy – vied for two seats on the association’s board, though Farr was later disqualified during the voting process after an anonymous tip raised questions about his homeownership status in the Pines.

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 of Farr’s eligibility made its way to Worcester County Circuit Court in August, when Farr filed a complaint against the OPA and its Board of Directors. Simply put, the suit challenges the determination on his eligibility and the board’s decision to proceed with the 2021 election and ballot count but to invalidate all votes for Farr. The disqualified candidate was soon joined by several co-plaintiffs alleging they had been disenfranchised after submitting their votes for Farr.

In September, following the expiration of a temporary restraining order halting the election, the Board of Directors voted to proceed with a “redo election” of the three remaining candidates. Two weeks later, however, the court granted Farr a preliminary injunction, effectively putting a stop to the board’s plans, and ordered the association to count the existing ballots, which ultimately revealed Farr and Daly as the top two vote-getters.

Testimony, exhibits and oral arguments were presented to the court in November. And for the last seven weeks, community members have awaited the judge’s ruling.

In an opinion issued Jan. 5, Campen asserted that the association acted in bad faith, highlighting the board’s decisions in the weeks following Farr’s disqualification.

“The OPA directors have not acted in the best interest of the Association, in the view of the court,” the opinion reads, “… the current activities of the OPA Board in an effort to exclude a popular candidate for election to the Board, have been conducted in bad faith, and are therefore not protected by the business judgment rule.”

Campen also asserted the association had “adopted an overly restrictive meaning of the term ‘owners of record.’”

“Without additional language, the meaning of the concept ‘owners of record,’ as written in the By-laws, does not necessarily mean the recorded deed grantee in the land records as suggested by OPA,” he wrote. “The Charter provides: ‘Members of the Association shall be persons who at any time are owners (legal or equitable) of numbered residential lots, condominium units or single-family attached dwellings in the Subdivision.’ Also, the Declaration of Restrictions states: ‘[E]very person who acquires title, legal or equitable, to any lot in the Subdivision shall become a member of the Ocean Pines Association, Inc.’”

Campen ultimately pointed out the “mistakes” of both the board and board secretary in certifying Farr’s candidacy and then disqualifying him from the race.

“The Board should permit the election results to be recorded, promptly install the duly elected 2021 Directors, without further interference, and get on with the necessary and important business affairs of the Ocean Pines Association,” he wrote. “In the event a sufficient number of voting members of the OPA may wish to remove Mr. Farr, or any other Director, they may attempt do so. The By-laws allow for the removal of a director by referendum initiated by petition signed by at least ten percent (10%) of the maximum number of votes that can be cast. Also a director may be removed for cause by two-thirds (2/3) vote of the entire Board of Directors.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Farr’s attorney Bruce Bright said he was pleased with the court’s ruling.

“The Court has found that Rick Farr was at all relevant times eligible to run for the Board and to serve as a Board member, under the Bylaws and other governing documents,” he said. “The Court has found that Rick was improperly disqualified as a candidate, and that the Perrone majority’s decision-making in regard to Rick’s candidacy and related election matters lacked good faith, was undertaken to influence the outcome of the election in an unauthorized manner, and was not in the best interests of the OPA membership. The Court has rejected all of the defenses advanced by the Board, including its attempt to insulate the Board’s wrongful decision-making within the so-called ‘Business Judgment Rule.’”

He continued, “In keeping with the Court’s clearly articulated directives, we expect that the Board will act immediately to formally recognize Rick as a duly elected member of the Board, serving in place of Mr. Brown. We also hope that his status and service as a Board member will not be hampered or interfered with by any ill will or targeting based on having prevailed in this case. And we believe that any further litigation of this matter by the Board, for example an appeal, would be wasteful and counter-productive. Rick is ready to get on with serving the OPA membership as a duly-elected Board member and to work constructively with the rest of the Board to get important work done. Hopefully the other Board members will be like-minded.”

Association President Larry Perrone could not be reached for comment this week. In an interview Thursday, however, Director Doug Parks said nothing has been planned at the board level.

“We only found out about it last night, so as of this point nothing has been done,” he said. “The next order of business is to schedule a meeting… We have to make sure we are following protocols, dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s and talking with our legal counsel.”

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.