Steven Lieberman and Kristen Logan Appear on Radio Program to Discuss Potential Impact of Supreme Court of Maryland Decision in Pro Bono Historic Black Cemetery Case

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On January 8, 2024, Rothwell Figg will present oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court of Maryland on behalf of pro bono clients in the battle to halt the sale of the Moses African Cemetery, an African American burial ground, to a developer unless and until the seller, the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), complies with Maryland law. On Wednesday, November 22, 2023, Rothwell Figg partner Steven Lieberman and associate Kristen Logan spoke to Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo on WPFW 89.3 FM's "What's at Stake" program to discuss the issues to be considered by the Supreme Court of Maryland and the potential repercussions of the Court's decision in Maryland and nationwide.

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC), Rothwell Figg's pro bono client, will be the first descendent group in the United States to argue in front of a state Supreme Court. After the initial favorable ruling by Judge Carla Smith was reversed on appeal by the Intermediate Appellate Court of Maryland, the Rothwell Figg team, led by Steven, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of Maryland. In September 2023, the Supreme Court of Maryland granted the petition and agreed to hear the appeal. The Supreme Court of Maryland grants less than 15% of the certiorari petitions filed, and the Court’s ruling reflects the importance of the issues raised by this case—specifically how burial grounds, such as the Moses African Cemetery, are to be treated under Maryland law. 

Steven explained that "...there are two questions in front of the Maryland Supreme Court: one is the statue itself. What does the statue require. And the other is the broader question of Maryland law. When you’re dealing with deceased persons, when you’re dealing with a burial ground, land that has dead bodies, do you have to go to court and get the input from the court before you can sell that property." 

Kristen explained the potential consequences of the Supreme Court of Maryland's decision: "...[T]he impact of an adverse decision essentially creates a two-tiered system here. And you're essentially allowing a property owner to go in and decide whether or not they want to involve the descendant community in the decision to sell a property, and unfortunately that will have a greater impact on marginalized communities like African American communities and Native American communities... a good decision here will reinforce that the issue here is not money, the issue here is not property rights, the issue here is treating human remains with dignity and respect."

The Supreme Court of Maryland's decision is "not going to affect just this case, it's going to affect cases throughout Maryland, it's going to affect cases throughout the United States, and if its decided the right way, it may also have an impact in other countries," Steve noted.

You can listen to the entire discussion between Steven, Kristen, and Dr. Coleman-Adebayo from "What's at Stake" on WPFW 89.3 FM by clicking here.

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