By Glynis Kazanjian
The incumbent Howard County Register of Wills, who is running for re-election this year, was convicted on a drunk driving charge during his current term in office.
Byron Macfarlane, a Democrat, expressed deep regret in a Montgomery County courthouse in September 2015 as he pled guilty after his second DUI arrest, but was not identified as the Register of Wills for Howard County.
His attorney, Terrence McAndrews, who is now challenging Macfarlane in the Register of Wills Democratic primary election, simply told Judge Josef B. Brown the defendant was a courthouse employee.
On Sept. 17, 2015, Macfarlane pled guilty to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol per se, a misdemeanor. Other remaining charges have been put on hold, according to a “stet” noted in the Maryland case search, which is a legal term for putting court proceedings on hold as inactive, and in most cases prosecutors do not pursue those charges.
“I take full responsibility for my actions and deeply regret them,” Macfarlane said in a statement. “My focus these past few years has been to work hard every day to care for Howard County families and be my best self through continued treatment and self-care.”
Macfarlane is continuing his run for office.
“I humbly ask voters to consider my record of service in my community and as Register of Wills and to allow me the opportunity to continue to run an office they know they can count on when they need help,” he stated.
On April 26, 2015, Maryland State Troopers pulled Macfarlane over for swerving and “almost hitting another car” while traveling eastbound on I-495 at Georgia Avenue, according to testimony by state prosecutors. He received seven citations including driving under the influence of alcohol per se, which indicates a driver’s alcohol blood content is .08 or higher. Macfarlane’s blood alcohol content was .13 on a breathalyzer, according to prosecutors.
Macfarlane received a 90-day suspended jail sentence, three years of supervised probation with a DWI monitor, was ordered to complete a program at the Columbia Addictions Center, complete two weekends at Right Turn, a drug and alcohol treatment facility, install an interlock ignition device on his car, which requires a driver to be tested for alcohol intake before he is able to start the car, and was fined $325.
Prior to the court date, Macfarlane voluntarily enrolled in the interlock program, completed two weekends at Right Turn and sought an evaluation at the Columbia Addictions Center.
In March 2016, a judge denied Macfarlane’s request to decrease his probation and interlock terms to one year, citing Macfarlane’s 2007 arrest for “driving, attempting to drive while impaired by alcohol,” which Macfarlane was not convicted of. The judge did agree to change Macfarlane’s probationary terms from supervised to unsupervised.
Up for reelection
Early voting for the June 26 primary election begins Thursday. The Register of Wills, which is primarily an administrative job in the courthouse, is elected on a partisan ballot every four years. Macfarlane was first elected in 2010.
Macfarlane, a member of the Howard County Bar Association, earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he concentrated on public and governmental service, according to his county biography. He also received a bachelor’s degree from University of Maryland, College Park in government and political science, with citations in public leadership and communication.
McAndrews said he cannot speak about his then-client’s 2015 drunk driving offense, but he is bothered about another situation between the two “professional friends” which makes him question Macfarlane’s sincerity about running for re-election.
As recently as December, Macfarlane was a candidate in the Howard County Council District 4 race. For months Macfarlane raised money, campaigned and according to McAndrews said he would back him in the Register of Wills race.
Then on December 2, Macfarlane issued a press release stating he was dropping out of the council race and elective politics altogether. But two months later on Feb. 16 Macfarlane filed for re-election in the Register of Wills race.
An excerpt from Macfarlane’s letter, in which he said he looked forward to completing the final year of his term as Register of Wills and helping his successor with a smooth transition, reads:
Over the past several days and weeks, I’ve been fortunate to spend time with my family and close friends. The holidays naturally give us the chance to take a break from our daily lives and reflect on the past, present, and future.
I’ve had many conversations with those closest to me about what is best for me now, in the year ahead, and the years that follow. I’ve decided that the best path forward for me is to take a break from electoral politics.
Earlier today, I formally withdrew my candidacy for Howard County Council…”
McAndrews said he doesn’t know why Macfarlane made the decision to drop out of the council race.
“I asked him about it,” McAndrews said. “He said it was a personal decision. I don’t know what’s behind it. I think his statement speaks for itself. That was a very strong and clear statement that for whatever reason he was out of electoral politics.”
But McAndrews said he believes he is the more qualified candidate.
“I have more real world experience,” McAndrews said. “I represent individuals. I’ve had a practice for 25 years. I work with the [Register of Wills] office not only in Howard County, but in the state. I have represented estates and individuals involved in the estate and probate process. I have a wealth of experience. This is where you are out with the public, and it’s an important position that requires more than just showing up.”
Macfarlane said after spending several months campaigning for county council, it was not the right race for him.
“I decided to run for re-election of register of wills after speaking to my colleagues around Maryland, my staff, my family and friends, and members of local bar association,” he said. “Among all, there was unanimous support for me to run again, and it’s really as simple as that.”
Unlike the 2014 election when Macfarlane ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections, this year he has to win the primary before he can move on to the general where the winner will face either Shawn Conley, a volunteer firefighter or John Vandenberge. Vandenberge declined to comment for this article.
The register of wills oversees the execution of decedent wills and serves as clerk to the Orphans’ Court. The office of the register of wills assists the public with preparing required forms, preserving probate records and ensuring related taxes and fees are collected. A main responsibility of the office is ensure that the wishes of the decedent, heirs and claimants are carried out and protected. The office, however, may not offer legal advice.
The salary is capped at $114,500, depending on the size of the jurisdiction. Macfarlane currently makes $109,200.
Conley, a Republican candidate for Register of Wills, would not comment on Macfarlane’s conviction. He said he wanted to run a positive campaign.
“The citizens of Howard County deserve public servants that do not make poor decisions and have respect for not only them, but maintain the integrity of the office to which they were elected,” Conley said.