City pleads poverty on funding for new Circuit judge

October 16, 1990|By M. Dion Thompson

Although state legislators already have agreed to fund another judge for Baltimore Circuit Court, that judge won't have a secretary, law library or other support services because city officials say they can't pay the $78,000 bill, Joseph H. H. Kaplan, the court's administrative judge said yesterday.

The court also runs the risk of losing some of its departments, such as the community services division, administrative office or medical division, and of running out of money if its budget problems aren't resolved, Judge Kaplan said.

"There are various things we can do, but it involves bringing the system to a halt," he told a committee of city lawyers yesterday. "I told this to the city and they said, 'Fine-tune your budget.' "

The court's financial woes and the pressures put on it by a dramatic increase in drug-related cases were the focus of the hearing convened by a committee from the city's bar association. The committee, which has held private meetings with city and court officials since August, conducted its first public hearing yesterday at the University of Maryland law school in Baltimore.

"This situation is critical," said George L. Russell, committee chairman. "Somehow, the temporary funding for the court to prevent it from closing must be found."

The committee, formed at the behest of David W. Skeen, president of the city bar, plans to report its findings and recommendations to the state legislators early next year. The main concern, Mr. Russell said, is to devise short-term solutions to the Circuit Court's budgetary problems. The immediate concern is the $78,000 needed to provide support services for the 25th judge.

"I just don't understand, and the whole committee is puzzled, particularly about the inability to fund the 25th judge," Mr. Russell said after the hearing.

During the hearing, Tracy Brown, director of the mayor's coordinating council on criminal justice, said the city does not have the money. She said city officials question the efficiency of the court's administration.

During her presentation, committee member Harry Johnson, in reference to well-known efforts by the city to get the state to take over the court system, said: "It's more than just a budget issue. It's a political issue, isn't it? I mean, let's put it all out."

Alfred Nance, another committee member, then asked: "Why can't we come up with the basic $78,000 for a judge?"

Mr. Russell also raised the issue: "We're talking about a judge who can move cases, and the mayor can't come up with the $78,000?"

Ms. Brown replied: "The reality is that the $78,000 is not there. . . . In the big picture, anything we give to the Circuit Court we take from somewhere else, from education, from streets."

Mr. Russell asked: "But he [Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke] hired a football coach for parks and rec, and you're telling me that's more important than $78,000 for a judge?"

The problems with funding the 25th judge indicate future problems for the Circuit Court, which Judge Kaplan said could use eight more judges.

Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, said he has all but given up the idea of asking the state legislature to give Baltimore any more judges.

"It's futile," Judge Murphy said. "Every year we have this battle."

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