Moore recounts 30 years of representing OPA
OCEAN PINES—Few people have been as involved in the evolution of the Ocean Pines Association as long-term legal counsel Joseph Moore, a partner at Williams, Moore, Shockley & Harrison, L.L.P. So we complete our 45th anniversary coverage with a few of his most memorable experiences from his 30 years of representing the fastest growing community in Worcester County.
Moore said he had been the OPA’s legal representative for a week when the first case came to him. It proved to be a slam dunk for the former prosecutor.
A Christian organization had asked the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals for permission to establish a campground on property they owned across from the North Gate. The OPA complained and Moore argued board’s position was that the group’s plan was not an appropriate use of the property as zoned and would be detrimental to the residential nature of the Ocean Pines community. The appeals board ruled in the OPA’s favor.
Started in August 1983, Moore was trying to lighten his professional load to spend more time with his young family and after 11 years in the state’s attorney’s office he decided he had been there long enough. “So I coerced Randy Coates to run for states attorney,” he said.
At roughly the same time the OPA board of directors, tasked with administering amenities and collecting assessments, decided that the increasingly active agenda for the young community required local legal representation.
Moore had been representing the Town of Berlin by the time he was approached to represent the OPA board. Tim Stoner, who began as general manager after a succession of general managers in the Pines, started about the same time and was the first long-tenured general manger (10 years) in the community.
There were approximately 10 sections being developed in the Pines. Boise Cascade was selling lots to developers, and each lot had a vote in community decisions, although Moore did not recall Boise ever exercising theirs.
Tom Perkins of Baltimore firm Venable, Baetjer and Howard, L.L.P. represented Boise. Moore remembered him as a “big deal prominent lawyer” with whom he said was able to work amenably.
“Tom and I never went to court as adversaries,” Moore said. Often, cases involved coordination restrictions and regulations on whether a bulkhead was properly constructed or resolving situations where property owners purchased and combined two adjacent lots, but insisted on paying only one assessment.
He also didn’t remember having to litigate too many contentious issues. “There were very few lawsuits,” he said. Many of the legal issues related to the community’s declarations of restrictions and they rarely advanced to the point of litigation, More said.
As Moore described the Pines’ case against Eleanor Schuster it became clear why it was both his most stinging legal defeat and—with the healing benefits of time—ultimately his funniest litigation memory.
Schuster was a senior citizen property owner who rented out the second floor of her home as an apartment—a clear violation of the restrictions in the OPA covenant. She refused to back down when pressured to comply by ending the rental arrangement and reopening the barrier door between the first and second floors.
Perhaps they were unfamiliar with the tenacity little old ladies are quite capable of exhibiting; perhaps they reasoned that a hard line would rattle the petite woman into the desired state of acquiescence. For whatever reason that might have seemed correct at the time, the board of directors filed a lawsuit against Schuster. Moore was tasked with filing for a petition of injunction to bar Schuster from maintaining a multifamily resident.
As he recalled it, the case seemed pretty routine—that is, until he arrived in the courtroom to face Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Theodore R. Eschenburg, with the defendant sitting in front of him.
“I got to court and there was this diminutive little old lady,” who apparently had pulled out her best sweet “Aunt Bea” face for the day, Moore said.
With her best piteous , both she and the judge glared at Moore, who admitted that by that time he was struggling to make his case. After he had, Moore said, Judge Eschenburg cowed him with just one comment: “Mr. Moore, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Your case rests on a lock on one door.”It was no surprise to Moore, a former state’s attorney, when Eschenburg ruled against Ocean Pines in the lawsuit and allowed Schuster to keep the apartment. “So I packed my bags and came home,” he said, still shaking his head from the memory of the ordeal. “That was not a career maker.”