By Greg Ellison
(Jan. 13, 2022) Rick Farr, the previously disqualified candidate for the Ocean Pines Board of Directors, was vindicated last week in a Worcester County Circuit Court finding that current board leadership acted improperly to block his campaign.
Visiting Judge Sidney Campen of Talbot County issued his opinion Wednesday, and ordered the association to appoint Farr and Frank Daly, who finished second to Farr in the 2021 board contest, to fill the two open seats.
Speaking on Thursday, Farr expressed mixed emotions: joyous in victory, but saddened to have fought the battle.
“The actions of the majority of this board split our community and pitted resident against resident and that is truly unfortunate,” he said. “Although this produced a victory for me personally, the negative impact on our community is disheartening.”
Farr was declared ineligible to run on July 27, even though now former Ocean Pines Board member and Secretary Camilla Rogers certified Farr’s candidacy on May 11. An “anonymous tip,” however, suggested that Farr was not a property owner at the qualification deadline of Jan. 1.
Since 2000, Farr has been a designated beneficiary and equitable member of the Farr Living Trust, the legal owner of the property purchased by his parents in 1999.
In October, after months of delay, Campen ordered the association to count all the ballots cast, which revealed Farr led the pack with 1,629 votes, followed by Frank Daly with 1,571, Stuart Lakernick with 1,511 and David Hardy with 941.
“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,” Campen wrote.
The court ruled that Farr was an equitable property owner in Ocean Pines and at all relevant times was a qualified candidate.
“It is in the best interest of the OPA that election results stand, and the two winners appointed at the next regular or special meeting of the Board of Directors,” he said.
Speaking on Thursday, Farr’s attorney, Bruce Bright, said, “We are very pleased with the court’s thorough and well-reasoned ruling, which settles all issues in the case.”
Bright said the court rejected the full range of the board’s arguments.
“Including its attempt to insulate the board’s wrongful decision-making within the so-called ‘Business Judgment Rule,’” he said.
Ocean Pines attorney Anthony Dwyer had argued that Maryland abides by the doctrine of judicial non-intervention in matters involving the internal affairs of a homeowner’s association.
But Campen noted the business judgment rule does not apply in instances that suggest the possibility of self-dealing and unconscionable conduct.
“The general rule under Maryland law is that decisions made by a homeowner’s association’s board of directors will not be disturbed unless there is a showing of ‘fraud or bad faith,’” he said.
Campen said OPA board leadership claimed the election actions were legitimate, based on the advice of counsel and consistent with the by-laws.
“OPA maintains that regardless of the correctness of the Board Secretary’s interpretations, the rule of non-intervention constrains the court from substituting its judgment,” he said. “The court does not agree.”
Campen cited prior court rulings that found if an organization acts inconsistently with its own rules, those moves could be deemed sufficiently arbitrary to invite judicial review.
“Minimizing judicial involvement in private organizations does not mean that members have no guarantee of procedural fairness,” he said. “The decision to derail the election mid-stream with Mr. Farr already on the ballot … deprived [him] the opportunity to campaign, and disenfranchised OPA members.”
Farr said the court ruling validates his decision to pursue a legal remedy.
“The (Board President Larry) Perrone majority’s decision-making in the election matters lacked good faith and they were called out by the judge in his ruling,” he said.
Campen was unequivocal in his written opinion.
“The OPA directors have not acted in the best interest of the Association, in the view of the court,” he said.
Bright said in accordance with court directives, Farr should be formally recognized as a board member immediately.
“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,” he said. “Hopefully the other board members will be like-minded.”
Bright said further litigating the matter through an appeal by the board would be wasteful and counter-productive.
For his part, Farr is ready to put the legal haranguing in the rearview mirror.
“I believe that it is time for the community to heal and the board to work hard for the best interest of the Ocean Pines community and not for their self-interest,” he said.
Association leadership was unable to be reached for comment.
Ocean Pines officials scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday (after press deadline) where Farr is anticipated to be seated on the board.