SUBPOENAS USED TO HARASS CITIZEN VOLUNTEERS. LAWYERS SEEK "DISCOVERY" OUTSIDE THE RULES. – TWENTY-FOUR CITIZEN-VOLUNTEERS MAY BE BROUGHT TO COURT BY HOWARD COUNTY SHERIFF
[POSTED JULY 18] Citizens Working to Fix Howard County ("FixHoCo") today revealed the extent of pressure-tactics invoked against county residents who exercised their First Amendment rights by collecting voter signatures to place zoning legislation on the ballot in November. The move reflects a dispute over limited parts of a massive "comprehensive zoning act" passed by the Howard County Council in 2013 that triggered a petition by voters to decide by referendum whether to accept or rewrite certain parts of the act. A properly-drawn petition was circulated, drawing more than enough signatures to get it on the November ballot, which the county board of elections then acknowledged. Land developers and their attorneys subsequently brought complex objections into court to reject the referendum effort. The winding legal trail has led to challenge and personal harassment of the circulators, the attempted use of a legal process called 'discovery', needless videotaped inquiry sessions, and now motions for writs of attachment directed against them. Issuance of the writs would require the Howard County sheriff to bring a quarter of the petition gatherers involuntarily into court. FixHoCo said, "We have been fighting against the use of "discovery" in this type of case because it can be used, and is being used, to harass and intimidate so as to discourage citizens from exercising their rights in the future. Allowing this heavy-handed practice would also apply to other circumstances where any citizen would be willing to circulate a petition ( ask for signatures) questioning any law or regulation. This legal tactic is part of a growing threat to constitutional guarantees of speech and petitioning for grievances, where accepted rights of the people are whittled away. Apart from the chilling affect resulting from the intimidation and harassment, fighting such legal attacks drastically shortens the available time to get wording FOR a referendum on the ballot.