Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (December 16, 2010) - In a case brought by attorneys for the Maryland Department of the Environment, a Baltimore landlord has been ordered to report to jail after he failed to bring all of his properties into compliance with the state’s lead paint laws.

The landlord, Cephus Murrell, was ordered jailed for contempt of court. He is to be detained until he brings the properties into compliance with lead laws or pays to relocate tenants of those properties, Baltimore Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson ruled during a hearing yesterday. The judge ordered Murrell to report to the Baltimore City Detention Center at 9 a.m. today.

Murrell has failed to meet a series of agreed-upon deadlines going back to February 2006 to obtain lead risk reduction inspection certificates for all of his properties. Lead risk reduction inspections are a critical part of Maryland’s very successful fight against childhood lead poisoning. Since 1993, we have reduced childhood lead poisoning by nearly 98 percent. Inspections are needed to identify lead contamination and ensure that properties are properly restored to protect Maryland’s children.

MDE filed a civil case in November 2006 against defendants Murrell and C. Murrell Business Consultants in Baltimore Circuit Court. In 2009, MDE filed a petition to have the defendants found in contempt for failing to meet the terms of an Amended Consent Decree designed to settle the case.

Murrell was found in contempt in June 2010 and was ordered to relocate tenants of eight rental units. Judge Pierson awarded MDE a judgment of $100,000. In October, after a series of follow-up hearings, the judge ordered that Murrell be incarcerated, but stayed the incarceration for as long as Murrell met a series of conditions. Those conditions included abating all unpaid rents for the affected properties and allowing tenants to live rent free through Jan. 5, 2011, or, at any tenant’s request, relocating the tenant.

At a hearing Wednesday, attorneys for MDE presented evidence that the defendant knowingly allowed unaccredited workers to perform lead abatement work and that the workers failed to follow proper work practices. Three properties remain out of compliance.

This is the second MDE lead program case to result in the incarceration of a property owner for civil contempt of court. The prior case involved a landlord who spent a weekend in jail in Dorchester County.

In making today's announcement, MDE Acting Secretary Robert M. Summers thanked Assistant Attorney General Andrea Baker for handling the case.