November 28, 2018 at 9:28 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Prosecutor to drop charge against gay Md. official
Byron Macfarlane, gay news, Washington Blade

Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane faced a misdemeanor charge. (Photo courtesy Howard County government)

The Howard County, Md. State’s Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed court papers announcing it plans to dismiss a misdemeanor charge against the county’s gay Register of Wills, Byron Macfarlane.

The charge against Macfarlane was initiated by a citizen’s complaint filed by a supporter of the Republican candidate who unsuccessfully challenged Macfarlane, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election.

The complaint, which was approved by a Howard County District Court commissioner, accuses Macfarlane of violating a provision of a state identification card law by allowing as many as a dozen unauthorized people to enter the Howard County Circuit Court building using Macfarlane’s ID access card on Sunday, Sept. 30, when the court building was closed to the public.

Macfarlane’s office at the Register of Wills is located in that building near its main entrance on the first floor, according to Maj. Howard Knott of the Howard County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the incident.

Knott told the Washington Blade that a deputy sheriff, who was at the court building during his regular tour of duty when the visitors entered, was told by the visitors that they had an appointment to meet with Macfarlane. The Sheriff’s Office then called Macfarlane, who informed the office that he was en route to the court building to meet the visitors at his office, Knott said.

“There were a number of people that were concerned and felt criminal charges should be placed,” Knott said. “That wasn’t the position of our county Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

The Howard County Times reported that those who called for Macfarlane to be prosecuted were local Republican Party activists, including a supporter of GOP candidate Shawn Conley, who ran against Macfarlane for the Register of Wills position in the Nov. 6 election.

The Times reported that the GOP activists expressed concern that the unauthorized visitors at the courthouse could have gained access to court records, which could have resulted in identity theft. But Knott said the deputy sheriff who spoke with the visitors reported that those who entered the building stood next to the entrance door where they remained until they left the building.

Macfarlane defeated Conley by 43,000 votes — a 2-to-1 — margin, according to county election returns.

The Howard County Times reported that Melissa Gruner, the Conley supporter, invoked a provision of a Maryland state law that allows citizens to file a criminal complaint against an individual for an alleged violation of a state or local law. The complaint was reviewed by an alternate District Court commissioner, the newspaper reported, who determined there was probable cause Macfarlane violated a state ID law that prohibits allowing “others” to use someone’s ID card.

The commissioner, Kenneth Reese, ordered Macfarlane to appear in court on Jan. 8 to answer the misdemeanor charge.

Wayne Kirwan, a spokesperson for the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, which serves as the prosecutor for criminal cases in the county, told the Blade last week that under state and county law the State’s Attorney’s Office makes the final decision on whether to prosecute a misdemeanor case like the one filed against Macfarlane.

“As with all citizen complaints, we will screen the citizen complaint to decide how we will proceed or if we will proceed with the case,” he said.

Court records available through Maryland’s online case search site show that the State’s Attorney’s Office filed an official notice on Nov. 27 with the Howard County District Court that it plans to “Nolle Pros” or dismiss the charge against Macfarlane at the Jan. 8 hearing scheduled by the commissioner who approved the charge on Nov. 6.

Macfarlane, reached by the Blade last week, declined to comment on the details of the charge filed against him while the case was pending but released a short statement.

“I know it’s en vogue for Republicans to exploit and abuse our judicial system to antagonize people who aren’t like them, but I’m confident that truth, justice, and the undeniable and overwhelming will of the voters will prevail,” he said.

When asked on Tuesday if he would like to make a revised statement in response to the decision by the State’s Attorney’s Office to dismiss the charge against him, he declined, saying the case remains open until at least the Jan. 8 hearing.

Macfarlane, 34, an attorney, was first elected as Register of Wills in 2010, becoming the first openly gay elected official in Howard County.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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