A Baltimore Circuit Court judge today granted postponements in about a dozen juvenile cases because prosecutors argued that budget constraints would prevent them from trying the cases next Monday.
But Judge David B. Mitchell, who supervises juvenile court, denied postponements in seven cases.
"The rights of children are primary . . . everyone else's difficulty is secondary," Mitchell told State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms and members of his staff at the hearing. "The children's rights will not be abridged."
Members of Simms' staff said the city's delay in authorizing the hiring of new prosecutors has hurt the understaffed juvenile division.
Joyce L. Wright, chief of the juvenile division, said three resignations this summer overburdened the remaining 15 prosecutors. She said she has had to "beg" prosecutors not to call in sick.
"At the present time, I have no idea how I'm going to cover these courts," she said. "We've operated on a wing and a prayer."
Wright said the city recently approved filling two of the vacancies. But she said it will take about a month or longer to train the new prosecutors. She still is waiting to hear about the third position.
Officials with the city's budget and management office could not be reached for comment today. Some court observers have suggested the crisis is part of the city administration's desire to have court funding taken over by the state.
Mitchell ordered prosecutors to meet with the public defender's office to solve the problem. The judge said budget problems were being felt by the entire court system, not just the prosecutor's office.
Wright said her division needed postponements for up to six weeks. She said she will now need to work out a contingency plan. "Everybody is going to have to work at home on nights and weekends," she said.
Earl L. Carey Jr., chief of the public defender's juvenile court division, said: "When you postpone the case of a child . . . six weeks in the life of a child is very important."
The cases, involving people under 18 years of age, include charges of assault with a deadly weapon, handgun violations and theft.