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Get a Cable Modem......Go to Jail

I've just been through a truly bizarre experience with Comcast@home, and I thought the assembled readership might be interested in hearing about it.

Chapter 1: In Which I Learn About the Various Divisions of the District Court of the State of Maryland

Thursday, November 19, 1998: It's an ordinary day. I get home from work, picking up the mail as I walk toward my house. I notice that the return address on one of the letters is the District Court of the State of Maryland. As I walk up the front steps, I think, "I just did jury duty last year; they can't be asking me to serve again so soon, can they?" After I settle in at home, I open the letter and read, "You have been summoned to appear as a defendant in a trial..." My first thought is that someone is suing me for something, but then I see at the top of the page 'State of Maryland vs. Sammel, Judith Lynne', and realize that this isn't a person suing me. My second thought is that I've gotten a parking ticket that blew off of my windshield and has gone unpaid, or maybe a speeding ticket from the traffic cameras I've heard about. It's too late to call the Court to see what the case is about, so I have to wait until the next day.

The next morning, I call the telephone number that's printed on the letter, and a recording says something like "press 1 for Civil Division, 2 for Traffic Division, 3 for Criminal Division, 4 for information about specific cases," etc. I choose the option for information about specific cases, and the person who answers the phone asks me to read her the case number. After I read it, I hear her say, "Just a minute. Let me transfer you to the Criminal Division."

"Whaaaaaaaaat?" I ask, but it's too late. I'm on hold.

Someone else picks up the phone, and again I read the case number and ask what the case is about.

"Cable fraud, " she replies.

Chapter 2: In Which Comcast Cablevision's Administrative Offices in Baltimore are Informed that "At Home" is More Than Just "A Place They'd Rather Be Than At The Office"

Unfortunately, I think I know what the problem is. I had signed up for Comcast@home cable modem service last March, but had not signed up for cable TV service. (Last time I checked, this was legal. In fact, it is mentioned specifically as a service in the FAQ list on @home's web site.) But, when they came to install my @home service, they had neglected to install the filter (they call it a video trap) to filter out the video signal from reaching my home. (I live in a townhouse community, and there is a "pedestal" containing cable connections for several houses--this is a few houses away from mine.) The installers had told me that they would return to install the video trap, and that I could enjoy cable TV service until they came back to do so--they said I should consider it an incentive to sign up for the service. Well, they never came back to install the video trap.

Then, in early June, my @home service stopped working. I made several calls to Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home customer service. Each claimed that it was the responsibility of the other to determine what the problem was, and fix it. During my conversations with Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home, I told them both that nobody had come back to install the video trap. Finally, Comcast@home agreed to come out and see what the problem was. I told them that they should bring a video trap with them when they came to repair the service. Because of their schedule and my vacation schedule, they didn't come out to repair the service until late June. The repair technician, when he arrived, said that the reason that my @home service stopped working was that someone had disconnected the cable in the cable "pedestal" on my street. He said that it was likely that Comcast Cablevision personnel had done this, not realizing that I had Comcast@home service. When he'd reconnected my service, I asked him about the installation of the video trap. He said he hadn't brought one with him, but would take care of it later. Again, nobody came back to install the device.

So, after I receive this letter from the District Court, I figure that Comcast Cablevision has been out to my neighborhood and has seen that I was connected up again (and again not realized that I had Comcast@home cable modem service.) I call the administrative offices of Comcast Cablevision here in Baltimore, and explain the situation. They say that they will have Comcast's attorneys call me to discuss it. I also make the suggestion that they come out and install a video trap on my line so that this won't happen again. They assure me they will send someone out that day to do it. I get home fairly late that evening and find that the video trap hasn't been installed. Since the Comcast administrative offices are closed by this time, I call @home customer service. I call at 10:30 PM and remain on hold until 11:15 PM, at which time a customer service representative takes the call. When I ask about getting a video trap placed on the line, his first response is that Comcast, not @home, should take care of that, and I should call Comcast customer service. I explain to him that, based on my prior experience with Comcast customer service, if I call them, the following situation will likely occur:

the Comcast customer service representative will ask for my Comcast account number I will reply that I have none, since I am only a Comcast@home customer, not a Comcast cable TV customer the service representative will tell me they can't do anything for me, and I will have to call @home customer service

He then agrees to talk to his supervisor. He returns to the line to tell me that he will place a work order for a video trap to be placed on the line.

Chapter 3: In Which I Wait Not-So-Patiently for Comcast's Attorney to Call, and for the Video Trap to be Installed

Saturday, November 21, 1998: After I place two calls to their offices, Comcast's attorney who is assigned to my case returns my call to assure me that the criminal charges will be dropped. I mention that the video trap wasn't installed the previous day.

Sunday, November 22, 1998: As of Sunday morning, neither Comcast nor @home has arrived to place a video trap on the line. I call Comcast customer service to ask about the status of this, and am initially told that since I am not a Comcast cable TV customer, I have to call @home to resolve any problems. I explain that the situation is related to criminal charges that Comcast has filed against me, and ask the account executive to try to find a way to assist me from her location. She asks for my name and address. I give it to her, and she comes back on the line after a few moments and says that the only name she has listed at that address is that of former occupants of my home (from1989-1992). I explain again that I am not a Comcast cable TV customer, but only a Comcast@home customer, so there would likely not be a record of my name, unless she has records of Comcast@home customers as well as Comcast cable TV customers. She again asks me to hold the line. When she returns, she says that she has checked into the situation with @home, and has found out that the video trap was not placed on the line because the part is out of stock. She says that when parts are shipped, they will send an installer out to put it in. She says that in the meantime, I cannot be held responsible for the signal coming into my home.

Tuesday, November 24, 1998: Comcast's attorney leaves a message on my answering machine saying: "I withdrew...did a request to withdraw those charging documents" . I will soon find out the hard way that the "withdrew...did a request to withdraw" wording actually means something--Comcast doesn't have the ability to get criminal charges dropped on their own, even though they're the ones who got the court to file them in the first place. Once the charges are "in the system", Comcast can only request that this be done.

Chapter 4: In Which A Police Officer Serves Me With A Criminal Summons in Front of an Out-of-Town Houseguest on the Eve of Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 25, 1998: A uniformed police officer drives up to my house in his police cruiser and delivers the summons to me; it shows 4 counts of cable fraud, with the possibility of 6 months in jail on each count. I had always wondered why, when someone commits what appears to be a single crime, you hear things about being charged with "10 counts" of something-or-other. In my case, Comcast's visit in June (when they cut off my service) was 2 counts--one for cable having been fraudulently hooked up, one for fraudulent receipt of service; and a subsequent visit they made in July, during which they saw that service had been reconnected, was again 2 counts. I try to tell the police officer what Comcast's attorney has told me to tell him--that the charges are being dropped, and that he should call her to verify this--but he could care less about this--he just wants a signature on the papers and wants to leave. A friend of mine, who has driven up from Virginia to spend the holiday weekend with me, is sitting nearby in my kitchen watching this sorry event; it's a really humiliating experience. Anyway, by the end of the day, I find that the video trap has finally been installed on the line.

Chapter 5: In Which I Come to the Conclusion that Lady Justice is Not Just Blindfolded, But Actually Blind

Monday, November 30, 1998: I telephone the State's Attorney's office to see if they have received and processed Comcast's request to withdraw the charges. They tell me that it has been received, and that the State's Attorney's office has disapproved Comcast's request. They tell me that no reason for the disapproval was supplied. I begin to feel like a character in a Kafka novel. I call Comcast's administrative offices in Baltimore and tell them that the State's Attorney has denied the request to withdraw charges. "They can't do that!" the employee that I speak to exclaims. "Well, obviously they can, because...they have," I reply.

Chapter 6: In Which I Determine That an Excellent Way to Pique Someone's Curiosity is to Ask, "Do You Have any Recommendations for a Good Criminal Defense Attorney?"

No chapter here, but it's too good of a title to pass up. Actually, I am told by some colleagues who are attorneys that even in a cut-and-dried case like this, I should expect to pay $750 or $1000 for an attorney if I need to mount a defense in court.

Chapter 7: In Which I Find Out that the Attorney for Comcast Actually Does Have a Sense of Humor

I speak with the Comcast attorney about my call to State's Attorney's office. She says she was unaware that State's Attorney has denied the request to drop the charges, and that she will write another letter to ensure that the situation is taken care of. She also asks about whether the video trap has been installed and is working correctly. I tell her that everything is blocked except for 2 religious channels, 1 Spanish language channel, and the video portion of E! TV. She says something along the lines of, "I guess the signal of the Lord manages to find its way through somehow."

Chapter 8: In Which I Learn That the Cable TV Franchising Authority is Willing to Handle Complaints About Cable TV Issues--But Only Up To a Point

A friend of mine had suggested that I find out who the Franchising Authority for cable television in Baltimore County is, and that I ask them to assist in the getting the problem resolved. I find out that the Baltimore County Council is the local Franchising Authority. On November 30, I call the County Council's offices and speak to an employee who is assigned to handle cable television issues. I explain the situation; she says she will check into it. On December 1, I speak to her again, and she says she had gotten in touch with the Assistant to the VP at Comcast Cablevision of Baltimore, and he will call her back with information. On December 3, when I speak to her again, she says that the assistant to the VP had assured her that Comcast is working on the problem. She is satisfied with this answer, and encourages me to "call her back to let her know when the problem's been resolved". It's nice to know that the employees of our local elected officials are really concerned about taking such a proactive role in ensuring that the problems of constituents are handled effectively.

Chapter 9: Boy, Do I Feel Like A Criminal

Thursday, December 3, 1998: One of the other Comcast attorneys calls me to say that the only person at the State's Attorney's office who can take care of the situation is an Assistant State's Attorney who is the Chief of the District Court Division, and that he has been out of the office all week. The attorney gives me the phone number, and tells me I can try to reach him myself. I call the number a few times during the day, and am alternately told that he is out of the office, or that "you're not allowed to call the State's Attorney, you're a defendant!". I leave a message for him, but it is not returned.

Also, around this time, I have a bizarre discussion with the Comcast attorney to try to find out why the State's Attorney disapproved the request to withdraw the charges. She explains that procedurally, they cannot withdraw the charges once the trial date has been set, and the summons has been served. She tells me that I should have "avoided being served". I never thought I'd ever get myself into a situation where I had to make a point of avoiding process servers. Anyway, it's true that the trial date had already been set (it was set on the same day Comcast applied for the Statement of Charges, November 17, 1998). But, the summons was not served to me until Wednesday, November 25. The State's Attorney disapproved the request for withdrawal of the charges on Tuesday, November 24, the day before I was served. So, either the State's Attorney's office doesn't know its own procedures, doesn't bother to follow them, or perhaps there's something more nefarious going on; I'm still not sure.

Chapter 10: In Which I Get To Speak With Sandra O'Connor's Second-In-Command

Friday, December 4, 1998: No, not that Sandra O'Connor. Baltimore County has its own, local, Sandra O'Connor. She's the State's Attorney (an elected official) and I've actually voted for her. I speak with her Deputy for Operations. Since he's responsible for the overseeing the District Court Division, he's the one that the Chief of the District Court Division reports to. I explain that Comcast said that the Chief of the District Court Division was the only one who could take care of the situation, but that he's been unavailable for several days. I ask the Deputy for Operations if he can take care of the situation in his employee's absence. He tells me no--that I should wait until his employee returns on the following Monday. He tells me that there is nothing in my file to show that Comcast has done anything related to the case since November 24, and that, if Comcast has promised to get the charges dismissed, I should be "on them" to take care of it.

Chapter 11: In Which I Get to Sit and Stew About This for Another Weekend Because the Only Person on Earth Who Can Apparently Take Care of this Situation is Either in Training, on Vacation, or Simply Out of the Office, Depending Upon Whom You Talk To

December 5-6, 1998: My demeanor begins to degrade into "don't get mad, get even" mode. I do some research on what the elements of a case of malicious prosecution are. (And, of course, I can do all of my research over the Internet--at cable modem speeds.) Paraphrasing one article that I read, the elements are: 1. The people that you sue for malicious prosecution have to be the ones that got charges filed against you in the first place. 2. The case has to have been decided in your favor, in one way or another. 3. There has to have been a lack of probable cause. 4. There has to have been malice. 5. There have to be damages.

Although "malice" in this situation might be hard to prove, one article published on the subject asserts that malice can be implied from a lack of probable cause, and from inadequate investigation and research. "Lack of probable cause" might also be difficult to prove here, but I believe that a good lawyer could argue that the fact that "cables have been connected and Comcast Cablevision was not the one who connected them" is no longer acceptable as probable cause, now that Comcast Cablevision has given @home (or its local affiliate, Comcast Online Communications) the authority to connect them.

Chapter 12: Things Finally Start Falling Into Place

December 7, 1998: I leave a voice mail message for the General Counsel at Comcast's Corporate Headquarters in Philadelphia telling him I'm unhappy with the way the situation is being handled, and that I'm considering filing a case in civil court for malicious prosecution. I receive a conciliatory call back from him, and also from one of the local Comcast attorneys telling me that the situation is being taken care of promptly. I finally get a call from the Chief of the District Court Division of the State's Attorney's office saying they will "nol pros" the case. It's great; I'm getting to learn some Latin while I'm at it. "Nol pros" is short for "nolle prosequi", which is Latin for "I will not prosecute." I can't believe it's taken over two weeks just to get a verbal agreement from the State's Attorney not to prosecute a case that everyone involved clearly agrees was based on a Comcast error.

December 12, 1998: I receive a courtesy copy of a letter from the State's Attorney to the Judge, requesting that the trial date be moved up, and saying that they intend to nol pros.

December 22, 1998: I call the District Court, and find out that the Judge has moved the trial date up to January 12, 1999, instead of the original date, which was in March 1999.

Chapter 13: In Which I Get an Unsolicited Letter From a Local Criminal Defense Attorney

December 30, 1998: I come home from work to find another interesting letter in my mailbox; this time it's from a local criminal defense attorney. It reads, "Dear Ms. Sammel, When you are charged with a criminal offense, not only can your freedom and liberty be taken away, a criminal record can affect you the rest of your life." The attorney then proceeds to offer his services, and even provides me with a handy little reminder card with my trial date stamped on it. Great. I guess that since the court's records are considered public documents, anyone can come in and get copies of them. I'm afraid to think about what kinds of mailing lists I could end up on as a result of this. Will I start receiving notices asking me if I want to subscribe to Prison Life magazine?

Chapter 14: In Which I Go to the Trial "Just In Case"

Although I've been told by Comcast that I don't need to show up in court on the trial date, I've never received notice from the District Court about this. And, considering that the last paperwork I received from the court said "a warrant for your arrest may be issued" if you don't show up at your trial, I decide it would be best to show up anyway.

January 12, 1999: Just when I'm starting to think that Comcast's motto has been morphed into "Comcast--Everything You Convict With", the court appearance is pretty uneventful. I show up at 8:30 along with about a dozen other people who are involved in other cases in the same courtroom that morning. According to the list outside the courtroom, it looks like there are a couple of theft cases and a couple of drug cases on the schedule. I'm actually starting to look forward to an interesting morning in court, hearing about all of this stuff, but the State's Attorney calls my case first. I start walking up to the Defendant's table, and hear the State's Attorney say that he's entering a nol pros. I've just reached the table when the judge says, "your case is dismissed, you're free to go," and so I turn back around and leave the courtroom.

Chapter 15: In Which The Assembled Readership Gets To Find Out That I Never Got Sent To Jail, But Just Got Threatened With The Possibility Of It

Sorry to disappoint those of you who were looking forward to hearing about that part.

I gave the "malicious prosecution" scenario a thought, but I'm not really a lawsuit kind of person. Unless I find out that Comcast has been involved in a pattern of cases like these without regard to the consequences, I don't intend to follow up on filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit. Besides, if I want to get my criminal record expunged, it looks like I will need to sign a waiver absolving them of liability for this incident. I am hoping, however, that Comcast will reimburse me for the $30 fee involved in getting my record expunged.


Although everyone I dealt with seemed apologetic, and willing to help get this fairly outrageous situation taken care of, I believe that there are still some problems that Comcast and @Home management need to address. For that reason, I decided to write to the Presidents of both companies, and ask them to respond to several issues. A copy of the letter is below:

*snip* to see the rest go to

-- Cherri (, July 24, 1999



One can only hope you spend this much effort on more important matters. Lot of ranting for nuttin'...Hellooooooooooo!!

-- Eat (s**, July 24, 1999.


Am saving your commentary to disk for future reference. We don't yet have cable internet here, or DSL, or any such thing. But am saving up info for when we do, so as to be a smart shopper --

But what comes to my mind, from personal experience, re your experience, is to contact the State Attorney General's office early, and often. I've been in two situations where undue harassment was being directed my both cases, early contacts to the State Atty Gen's Ofc stopped the harassment dead in its in, the asses were never heard from again, in both cases. Yep.

Let it go on for a while, and it goes on for a while longer. "Nip it in the bud" -- Barney Fife

-- Chicken Little (, July 25, 1999.

One can only hope that the creature "Eat (s**" will follow its own advice.

To allow such organisms to continue performing life functions can only result in misery, for the organism itself, and all connected with it.

-- Chicken Little (, July 25, 1999.

Well, good morning little chicken. Good to have you back after your operation. I thought this was a 'satire' oriented forum. Cherri's rambling disertation over a rather simple cable service problem hardly qualifies. That would also apply to your brain-fried remarks as well. Return to the clinic and have the other part removed.

-- Eat (s**, July 26, 1999.

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