Legislative Issue: Citizens’ Right to Their Day in Court
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In Maryland private citizens and their community organizations lack the right to appeal to the courts. Read about how the CCE is fighting for our right to stand in court.
Citizen and Community “Standing”
Maryland citizens are often stunned when they seek recourse to the courts, to protect their neighborhoods from illegal or intrusive development. Because of a quirk in Maryland law, they find they are denied this basic right – to petition the courts for redress. Businesses and developers have the right to sue when public authorities deny them zoning or other permits to conduct activities in the community. However, private citizens and their community organizations lack the same right to appeal to the courts under Maryland law, when a ruling goes against them. They lack “standing to sue” – a fundamental right to have their case heard, a right that is afforded all citizens under federal law.
Maryland law routinely denies the protection of our courts to precisely those community and environmental organizations that are most concerned and knowledgeable about violations of pollution laws, improper zoning, and unhealthy development affecting our neighborhoods. Although Maryland’s citizens generally have a voice before zoning boards and agencies during public hearings, they are denied the right to contest or appeal adverse decisions to the courts where ultimate decisions are made. By law, the deck is stacked against citizens who have environmental problems in their community. They are denied equal access to the courts.
Leveling the Playing Field
A broad coalition of community and environmental organization are seeking this year to level the playing field – by statute, to permit the same access to Maryland’s courts that are granted to developers and other businesses, and have always been granted in the federal courts of our nation.
There are many financial and other hurdles to a citizen’s ability to have his or her day in court. Raising funds is difficult, in order to hire attorneys or engage expert witnesses to contest unhealthy development. Even in the majority of states where citizens have standing to appeal agency decisions, these cases are rarely brought – and only when community interests are united in their opposition to projects which will have an adverse impact on citizens.
Maryland citizens are seeking an appropriate statutory solution to grant community leadership and affected individuals their rightful role in these legal processes. Citizens simply ask for our right to stand in court, to protect our homes and communities from environmental injustice.
For more information:
Dru Schmidt Perkins, 1000 Friends of Maryland, 410-385-2910, firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Harris, Clean Up Coalition, 410-576-0800, email@example.com
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