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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 expression, 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.”