October 1, 2013

Do Celebrities and Public Figures Need an Event Confidentiality Agreement?

In this age of smart phones with cameras, instagram, twitter, tumblr and the like, anyone who wishes to plan and hold a private event must take extraordinary actions in the planning stages, or settle for the fact that all activities at the event will end up as 140 character tweets or Instagram posts. Planning starts with the very first vendor, whether it is a venue, caterer or photographer. Many caterers and event planners "for the stars" already incorporate confidentiality provisions within their own contracts, but what about the vendors who do not? How will you ensure that those supposedly trusted business people do not intentionally or unintentionally disclose private details that you require remain confidential? How about the staff hired for the day of the event? Most importantly, what about the many guests who will attend, cell phones in hand, one finger constantly on the SEND button?
One could rely on the good faith of the staff and guests.  However, if you plan an event to be out of the public eye and rest your faith on good faith of others, you will be in for a mighty disappointment. People are people. Even the guests who are themselves public figures want to capture moments and be in the limelight.
So, what can be done?

You can engage a lawyer to draft a confidentiality agreement specific to your event and circumstances that all guests and vendors will sign. You will then need to figure out how and when each attendee will sign such an agreement, and whether use of electronics will be restricted or banned altogether. You will need to make sure each person does sign such an agreement and that all attendees are accounted for. The lawyer will need to work with security staff hired for the event and, most importantly, the lawyer must maintain controls over his or her law office files so that the law firm’s own employees do not inadvertently come across confidential information.
Call us to discuss what we can do to help ensure that your event remains confidential. We have worked with security staff and executive assistants and drafted agreements both for the planning stage and on the day of an event. Our small office and use of electronic communications lessen the risk that any client information gets into the wrong hands. We will go the extra mile to help you feel confident that you are doing all that you can to make the day special. We are Maryland lawyers but we will find and work with local counsel if your event is outside of Maryland.


July 19, 2013

When Employees Work From Home, They Bring Your Company’s Employment Law... http://t.co/tATnw1sSP7 | by @FoleyandLardner #HR -- Daily Law News (@Legal_Alerts)

April 22, 2013

Baby Boomers - update your estate planning documents!

I have found that many clients have their wills drafted when they have young children at home, and then do not think about revisiting their documents ever again. As a rule of thumb, I recommend that my clients review their estate planning documents at least every three years. If you haven't looked at your documents in a while (or even in a few decades!), here are a few reasons why doing so is a good idea:
  1. Laws change. State and federal laws regarding estate taxes are always in flux. Also, some states have adopted new laws about "living wills" - the documents that guide your family in making end of life decisions about your care.
  2. People change. Twenty years ago, you may have appointed your cousin to be your executor in your will. That was before it was revealed that he had a gambling problem... Suddenly, your cousin no longer seems like the best person to be wrapping up your finances.
  3. Finances change. You may have been in those youthful years when money was tight when your documents were first drafted. Now you have a vacation home, a sizeable nest egg, retired and have started a small business out of your garage. All of these need to be considered when drafting your will.
  4. Stuff changes. You may have started a priceless baseball card collection, or you may have inherited a family heirloom that is to be passed on to a specific family member. These need to be addressed in your estate planning documents.
  5. Families change. Kids grow up and have their own kids. Marriages occur and divorces happen. All of these family relationships need to be taken into consideration. Some divorced clients believe that their wills are no longer valid after their divorce is finalized. Guess what? Your old will where your ex gets everything is still valid until you revoke it.
  6. Homes change. You've been in three different houses and lived in a few states since you had your documents drafted. Each state has different rules and guidelines about what is included in the various estate planning practices. What was valid in your old home state may not be valid in your current location.
  7. You change. Your goals at 60 are different from your goals at 30. You may want to leave a legacy for your family. Further, your health needs now are different than when you were younger.

April 18, 2013

Recap of Planning Board on 4/15/13

Howard County's Planning Board met on Monday in a public work session to review proposed text amendments as part of the comprehensive zoning process. The current Planning Board members are Dave Grabowski, (Chair), Paul Yelder (Vice-Chair) Josh Tzuker, Bill Santos, and Jacqueline Easley.

While there are many proposed text amendments considered by the Planning Board, a few have been particularly interesting:
  1. Allow chicken keeping on properties where the lot is greater than 10,000 square feet and there is a single-family detached dwelling, which is occupied as a residence. Residents can have up to 8 hens, and no roosters. This has been well followed in the local news.
  2. Require permits of businesses run out of a person's home.
  3. Allow granny pods on certain residential properties. Granny pods are portable, temporary housing units which are outfitted with medical monitoring devices. The proposed amendment would allow a second dwelling unit on a lot for the use of an elderly or disabled immediate family member of the principal dwelling unit.
The next scheduled work session is Monday, April 22, 2013 at 6:00pm, in the George Howard Building, 3430 Court Avenue, Ellicott City, MD 21043.

April 15, 2013

Tax Day!

Just a quick reminder that today is the deadline for IRS tax filing! The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution states "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."

April 12, 2013

Howard County Zoning Regulation Unduly Regulates and/or Prohibits Home Occupations

         Katherine Taylor, a land use, zoning, small business and real estate attorney, has been practicing in Howard County for more than 20 years. Andrea LeWinter joined efforts with Katherine Taylor almost 10 years ago and together with Kelcie Longaker, who joined with Taylor Legal a few years ago, they pursue a common goal - to represent individuals and small businesses throughout the County, choosing to eschew the lucrative compensation of the larger law firm in order to provide quality representation to those businesses and individuals who cannot afford to hire larger firms for important representation. In order to be able to provide reasonably priced representation, these lawyers have chosen to work from home-based offices rather than leased commercial space. They interact frequently with IT consultants, bookkeepers, office assistants, and other individuals and small businesses who also practice from home-based offices. Importantly, many of the Taylor Legal clients are themselves individuals and small businesses who seek either business, employment, real estate and zoning advice from like-minded lawyers with the primary goal being quality representation to their clients.
            The Taylor Legal lawyers do not have any doubt that they would be able to navigate and meet any requirement for a permit or even a conditional use were they required to do so in order to maintain their businesses. However, the real concern is for the multitude of other Howard County residents who chose to live here, work here and send their children to school here, and who also maintain home offices or home occupations.
            Howard County is touted in the press and on its own website as one of the most affluent and highly educated Counties in the country, and for having an excellent school system. Many of the highly educated residents of the County are practicing as business consultants, IT specialists, computer programmers, and too many professions to name – all from home based offices. Why do they do this? There are many reasons. One reason is because their education and experience allows them the ability to do so. Some are required to maintain home offices. Some choose to telecommute. Many are retired from government and have chosen to continue working in government industry as contractors or consultants. Many are moms (or dads) who have professional degrees who want to work while at the same time having flexible schedules so that they can attend to their most important job: raising their children and being there when their kids come home from school.
So, what makes this County one of the most educated, and what makes this County have one of the best school systems in the Country? It is not because the developers of land have made fortunes building on land appropriately zoned for their projects. It is not because of the Route 1 corridor vitalization or Route 40 vitalization or the fact that huge shopping centers or grocery stores are sprouting up; it is not even because the County prides itself on having excellent services and fantastic parks. These are the things that may draw people here, but the primary characteristic that defines this County are its people, their dedication to their education and work, their dedication to community and their dedication to their children.
            Now, it appears that rather than foster this dedication for which our residents are known, the County wants to quell the ability of many people to work from their homes and either prevent them from doing so or place so many constraints on doing so that these very people who love this County will be forced to move elsewhere or seek employment elsewhere, leading to the decline in the very attributes that define us as a County worthy of distinction.

DPZ Cannot and Should not be Regulating Business
First, we believe that this proposed regulation requiring permits for Home Occupations is stepping into territory that should not and cannot be regulated by DPZ or by the County as a zoning regulation. Nowhere in the Land Use Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland is there authority for the County, as a zoning regulation, to regulate business. Title 4, Sections 4-101, et seq., of the Land Use Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland set forth the powers granted to the County by the State to regulate use of land. Powers not expressly granted to the County are reserved to the State.
While the enabling provisions of the Land Use Article do grant the local counties the power to regulate the use of privately owned property, any regulation must be based on a determination that such regulation is necessary for the health, safety, comfort and welfare of all persons in the community. That is why zoning as a whole has withstood countless challenges over the years – because the overall welfare of the community is and can be the basis for zoning regulations. In the case of the instant regulation proposal, there is no overriding public interest that can be served by the regulation as now drafted.
Further, the proposed regulation seems to be attempting to regulate professions or professional offices by reference to professional offices. However, the State has not granted any powers to this County (or any other counties) to regulate professions or businesses. See, Business Occupations and Professions Article, Titles 1 through 13, of the Annotated Code of Maryland, and Business Regulation Article, Titles 1 through 18 of the Annotated Code of Maryland/

Neither DPZ nor any County Agency Should be Regulating What Happens Inside People’s Own Homes
We believe the regulation interferes with basic constitutional rights to be free to do what we please in our own homes, so long as we are not bothering our neighbors, creating a nuisance, or engaging in criminal activities (which are enforced by our police and law enforcement agencies and not by DPZ). Yet, DPZ wants to come into our homes and require us to provide perhaps proprietary or classified information about the business we conduct.

The Regulation is Void for Vagueness
Last, the regulation as written is so fraught with vagueness, mistakes and uncertainty that any challenge would likely be upheld. Examples are:
1.    The proposed regulation states that professional offices, which are licensed by the state, are allowed; however, professional offices are not licensed, professional people are licensed.
2.    The regulation does not distinguish between people who have their own businesses and people who work for others from their own home. Under the regulation, if two people who live in a residence both happen to work from home full time, that business would need to
3.    Net floor area is not defined.
4.    There is no definition of “sale or rental of commodities.” What about internet sales? What about a sales engineer who arranges a call to a customer from her home, or a consultant who lands a deal with a client from his home office computer?
5.    The regulation fails to state what “authorized” by covenants or property managers of an association means. Does that mean that there must be an HOA Board decision authorizing the use, or just that the covenants allow the use? Who will be interpreting the covenants?
6.    There is no indication as to how this will be enforced. Will a person who earns a living from a home office receive a violation notice stating that they must cease and desist until they can attend a hearing or obtain a conditional use?

The Regulation Will have a Chilling Effect on the Ability of
Many Residents to Earn a Decent Living
This proposed regulation would require any person who uses their home for a business purpose to request a permit from DPZ or have a person who conducts a home occupation be subject to being shut down if a permit or conditional use is, for some reason, not granted. The undersigned residents are fortunate in that they practice in the realm of land use, business and real estate and had notice (albeit at the last minute while reading through the myriad of zoning regulations proposed) of the proposed regulation. Yet, because there is no process for notifying all of the residents who may be affected by this proposal (publication of the regulations on the County website is not adequate notice for such a regulation), most of the people who will be affected will have no idea that the regulation was passed until an inspector shows up at their front door.
This regulation purports to regulate use of property, but in fact it allows DPZ to require information about what a resident does inside his or her own home in connection with that person’s business. Further, amazingly, it would prohibit any person from having a Tupperware party, a Longaberger party, or having a Mary Kay makeover party. Many families in Howard County rely on a second income from this type of work.
It is easy for government employees with secure jobs and excellent benefits to look at this as just another regulation that allows DPZ to address complaints made when a person’s neighbor is having a Pampered Chef party and there are too many cars parked on the street, or when a home business has a few employees who quietly come and go during the day. But what these well-paid government employees do not recognize is that all of this is being done in order to make a living.
It astounds us that DPZ seems to have gone above and beyond to cater to those who want to build high-density apartments close to single family neighborhoods, to allow mixed use centers in what used to be clearly residential areas, and to allow intense business uses in existing residential areas, all with the effect of eroding the standard of living to which many in this county have become accustomed.  But now the County wants to shut down the livelihood of many of those who fight the hardest to maintain the standard of living and, frankly, to be able to pay their mortgage.
Many people in this County work from their homes – they telecommute, consult, sell, provide advice, prepare tax returns, tutor children and make a living in this new age of electronic communications. How can you tell a consultant who runs a business from home that he or she cannot do so anymore because they cannot obtain authorization from their HOA which is required for a permit, or that they have to go through the conditional use process in order to be “legally” doing their job?
Why is DPZ concerned about people who cannot afford the housing prices in Howard County, but not concerned about the people who are making a living working from their home because they cannot afford commercial space?
The negative ramifications of this proposed regulation cannot be overstated. You will have a multitude of people prevented from making a living, or an underworld of people who work from home, afraid to tell anyone they are breaking the law by doing so.
If parking is the problem, then regulate parking.
If signs are a problem, then regulate signs.
Surely there are better ways to handle the occasional complaint of a neighbor who moved into a neighborhood but does not now like people parking on their street or carrying loads of baskets or make-up to their cars to deliver to customers. But, do not force us - or anyone else - to provide to DPZ sensitive information about our business and our employees, and please do not allow a regulation to stand that allows a DPZ inspector to come into our homes and measure the number of square feet that we use for our work.
We implore Howard County to look at this closely, and stop this in its tracks. And then we request that the Howard County leaders, if they truly believe the health, safety and welfare of our community requires regulation of home business, work with people who actually operate home businesses and, within the confines of the County’s authority, devise a way to achieve whatever goals are intended to be met by this proposal.
For the actual text of the proposed regulations, you may go to the Howard County website: http://www.howardcountymd.gov/compzoning.aspx?id=6442466051 and click on “Text Amendments.” That website also describes the Comprehensive Zoning process.


April 8, 2013

Historic Preservation Easements

A historic preservation easement is a type of conservation easement designed to protect a significant historic, archaeological, or cultural resource. An easement is an agreement between a property owner and another party which limits certain rights of the owner. Preservation easements entetered into with the State of Maryland are managed by the State Historic Preservation Office (The Maryland Historical Trust). According to the State Historic Preservation Office:
Generally, the owners of the easement property agree to relinquish partial development rights, to maintain the property, to provide limited public access, and to obtain prior approval for any changes or alterations.  In exchange, The Maryland Historical Trust promises to protect the property by ensuring continuous compliance with the terms of the Easement.
There are currently 21 properties in Howard County which have a historic preservation easement. For the full list of all properties in Maryland, see the list provided by the Maryland Historic Trust.

April 1, 2013

Can you trademark the Easter Bunny?

Europe's High Court heard a suit brought by Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli against Franz Hauswirth GmbH over a trademark for their gold-foiled chocolate Easter bunny.  According to Reuters, "Hauswirth argued Lindt was using its trademark to quash competition unfairly. It said chocolate bunnies traditionally come wrapped in gold foil and that it is normal for the shapes to look similar as they are based on animals." However, Lindt ultimately prevailed, an in 2012, the Court ruled that Hauswirth had to stop making their own gold-foiled bunnies.

March 25, 2013

New I-9 issued by USCIS

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires that all employers have their new employees fill out a Form I-9. A new version of the  I-9 has been issued by the government, of which the most obvious change is the addition of a second page. If employers do not use the new version of the form after May 7, 2013, they will be considered as non-compliant and will be exposing themselves to the possibility of civil, or even criminal, penalties. Current employees do not need to fill out a new I-9 unless they have an event that necessitates re-verification under the
provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The I-9 can be found here: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=31b3ab0a43b5d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD&vgnextchannel=7d316c0b4c3bf110VgnVCM1000004718190aRCRD

March 11, 2013

Wills for Heroes

I spent this past Saturday volunteering with Wills for Heroes, which held a session at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville. Wills for Heroes is a phenomenal program which provides free wills and other estate planning documents for first responders - i.e. fire department and police department personnel. According to the Wills for Heroes website:
Anthony Hayes, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, LLP, in Columbia, South Carolina, started the Wills for Heroes program shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Anthony emailed the Columbia Fire Department asking what lawyers could do to help that department. During an impromptu focus group, it became clear that there was a glaring need for estate planning services.
The attorneys who volunteered this past Saturday were able to provide estate planning documents to roughly 70 individuals.

February 19, 2013

Right to Google for a Lawyer?

A criminal case out of Canada highlights the growing disparity amongst older generations who grab the phone book and younger generations who use an internet search engine when in need of services. The case ruled that a 19-year-old defendant had the right to use the internet to find a lawyer. From the article:
"In the year 2013 it is the Court’s view that all police stations must be equipped with Internet access and detainees must have the same opportunities to access the Internet to find a lawyer as they do to access the telephone book to find a lawyer.”
While Canada's due process differs from that in the U.S., the evolution of courts recognizing a legal right to internet access is universal.

Merriweather Post Pavilion and Noise Limits

From the Baltimore Sun: Merriweather Post Pavilion adjusts request for noise limits

February 4, 2013

Employee Credit Checks

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now responsible for enforcing the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA),  which was previously a duty of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).This change came under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. This is important for small businesses who perform credit checks on employees, as there are certain forms that the FCRA requires employers and consumer reporting agencies to use when conducting background checks on employees or applicants.  The new forms, which went into effect on January 1, 2013, are available in Appendices K, M and N in Title 12 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 1022.

February 3, 2013

Anheuser-Busch to buy Grupo Modelo?

Anheuser-Busch InBev has made a bid to purchase Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona. The Justice Department has filed suit to block the merger, stating that the two companies account for 46% of the $80 billion of annual beer sales in the US, and contends that this is too large of a share of the market.

January 28, 2013


For those of you interested in zoning and development proposals here in Howard County, check out HoCoZo, our blog which posts upcoming pre-submission meetings and related information.

January 21, 2013

Baltimore City Zoning to Eliminate Liquor Stores?

Our practice areas include zoning law and liquor license applications. Interestingly, Baltimore City is undergoing an update of its zoning code and a proposal has been made to eliminate liquor stores which had previously been allowed to operate as a nonconforming use in areas where the zoning prohibits the establishment of a liquor store. The Baltimore Sun had an interesting perspective on the matter in a January 13, 2013 editorial column entitled Healthy Zoning. These proposals could make for interesting news over the next few months.