After ruling, fortuneteller weighs shops in county
State high court invokes free speech in ending county ban
Fortunetelling may well be in Montgomery's future, after the Maryland Court of Appeals on Thursday struck down a county ban on such businesses.
Nick Nefedro, who challenged the county's prohibition on telling fortunes for pay, said Monday that he would wait to see if the county's lawyers file an appeal before he seeks permits to open a psychic shop in Bethesda or elsewhere in the county.
The county does not plan to appeal the ruling, county spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said Tuesday. "It would not be the best use of the county's resources," he said.
"I'd start with one [shop] and hope to open more in time," Nefedro said, prior to Lacefield's comment. Nefedro has operated fortunetelling businesses in New York, Los Angeles and Key West.
Nefedro said he plans to offer many types of psychic readings, including tarot and palmistry, as well as books, and he said he'd like to franchise shops all over the country.
Lawyers for the county argued that fortunetelling is "inherently fraudulent," that the county prohibition aims to protect consumers and their money, and that the ban does not violate the First Amendment.
Regardless of the validity or value of the speech, the right to express it is constitutionally protected, the state's highest court ruled.
"If Montgomery County is concerned that a fortuneteller will engage in fraudulent conduct, the County can enforce fraud laws in the event that fraud occurs," Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote in the majority opinion.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. said the county's prohibition is defensible because it bans not speech but payment for fortunetelling.
A check of county permitting records Monday showed that no applications to open fortunetelling businesses had been filed.
The Court of Appeals ruling overturned a Montgomery County Circuit Court decision in December 2008 that upheld the county ban, which Nefedro challenged after being rejected for a license to open a fortunetelling business in Bethesda.
The American Civil Liberties Union aided Nefedro in his appeal, which the state's highest court heard in March.
ACLU of Maryland lawyer Ajmel Quereshi hailed the decision as a victory for free speech, saying in a statement that "it is not the role of government to decide that broad categories of speech can be banned merely because it finds them distasteful or disagreeable."