A plaintiff might be wanted by authorities for armed robbery, and he might even be dead, but that is not enough reason to throw his lawsuit out of court, a Montgomery County circuit judge ruled yesterday.
The ruling came in a suit brought by Joseph Baltimore, a former Montgomery County police officer who was named as a suspect in two armed robberies in May and has been a fugitive for the last seven months.
Baltimore, 35, is seeking $75,000 in back wages in a lawsuit his attorney filed in September against the Montgomery County Police Department. He last served as a plice officer in 1977, when the department suspended him following charges he had raped a 15-year-old girl. Baltimore was acquitted but never rejoined the force.
Authorities believe Baltimore held up a Safeway manager in McLean May 31 and that he led them on a chase to Bethesda, where he crashed his car and made off on foot. The suspect in that case was wounded by a security guard but was never found.
Fairfax police charged the Baltimore with armed robbery in McLean, and Montgomery County police charged him with an almost identical robbery May 10 at a Rockville Safeway store.
Baltimore's attorney, Courtland K. Townsend, told the court that based on police reports, "it may . . . be that the plaintiff is either dead or seriously injured." That being the case, Townsend argued, he needed extra time to bring Baltimore forward.
Attorneys for Montgomery County had asked that the case be dismissed, because Baltimore seemed to have no intention of appearing in court to answer questions in the process of discovery.
Circuit Court Judge Stanley Frosh said he would give Townsend a "reasonable time" for Baltimore to answer the county's request for appearance and instructed the county's counsel, Bruce Sherman, to wait six months. If Baltimore does not appear within that time, said Frosh, county authorities can renew the motion for dismissal.
Frost said he presumed Townsend had been instructed by his client to file the suit before Baltimore disappeared, and Frosh said that "if he-(Townsend) doesn't file suit, he could be sued for malpractice."
Townsend, in his written response to the county's dismissal motion, argued that Baltimore's claim "have nothing to do, directly or indirectly with any of the matters which have resulted in his being a fugitive" and that the claims could be settled by looking at the records.
Baltimore "may not appear to be in good public favor, as it were, but he nonetheless has a right to pursue the claims . . . as any other litigant," Townsend argued.