A Baltimore Circuit Court judge yesterday postponed 13 juvenile cases scheduled for Monday because the city state's attorney's office said it does not have enough prosecutors in its juvenile division to handle its caseload.
However, at the end of a special hearing yesterday, Judge David B. Mitchell refused to postpone seven other cases.
In the cases he did delay, the judge gave 30-day postponements instead of the six weeks prosecutors had requested.
"These children's rights will not be abridged by the momentary fiscal difficulties of any government entity," said Judge Mitchell, who is in charge of the juvenile court. "This is not to say we're unmindful of the fiscal realities."
Judge Mitchell also ordered that members of the state's attorney's office and the Office of the Public Defender meet with him within seven days to discuss ways of handling the current staffing crisis in the juvenile division.
Joyce L. Wright, the prosecutor who heads the juvenile division, said her office has three vacancies and has been unable to fill them because of delays in gaining approval from the city to hire new attorneys. The juvenile division is supposed to have 18 prosecutors. Though the division will get a new attorney on Monday and another next month, Ms. Wright said it will take several weeks before those attorneys will be able to handle cases.
"In the current situation we do not feel we can spend the time we need on those cases and cover the courts," said Ms. Wright. "I believe at this time we're basically operating on a wing and a prayer."
During the hearing, Judge Mitchell asked Deputy State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy if the "crisis" was being manufactured, an apparent reference to proposals made by the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that the state assume the costs of running the circuit courts and the state's attorney's office.
"There is a move for the city to divest itself of the Circuit Court," Judge Mitchell said. "Is this an attempt to create a crisis?"
Ms. Jessamy responded: "It's our reaction to what the city has done. I couldn't speak to what the city's motives might be."
The 13 cases postponed were of juveniles who were not in detention and who were making their first court appearance for those particular cases. The seven cases not postponed were for juveniles who were in detention or whose cases had been previously postponed; those cases will be heard Monday.
During the hearing, Earl L. Carey Jr., chief of the public nTC defender's juvenile court division, said that he sympathized with the staffing problems faced by State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms but that he did not think city prosecutors had done everything they could to staff the juvenile division. Mr. Carey suggested having senior prosecutors help out in the juvenile division.
Granting postponements and possibly closing down juvenile courts should be done only as a last resort, he said.
Though quick approval of requests to hire new prosecutors will alleviate the current staffing problems, it will not solve the long-term funding problems, Mr. Simms said.
"We are caught in this see-saw between [Judge Mitchell's] obligations and the bureaucratic and fiscal realities," he said.