Howard County's Circuit Court is about to come apart at the seams for lack of judges, courtroom space, support staff and prosecutors, two of the court's judges said yesterday.
While the caseload is rising and the county state's attorney is offering wholesale plea bargains on all but the most serious cases to clear up a backlog, the criminal justice system is under financed, Judge Cornelius F. Sybert complained.
"We are caught in a financial crunch and the end result is that justice is not being done," he said.
"I don't know who is to blame, but if the average citizen knew what was happening he would agree to a slight increase in taxes to make sure the court system worked."
And the picture will get worse next month when Eric Tirado goes on trial for the murder of state police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf, added Judge James B. Dudley.
It will be the first of 13 murder trials scheduled over the next year that will create a "significant backup of cases," he said. "We have been going along with a rural mind-set and now we have metropolitan kinds of problems."
Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the Court of Appeals,disagreed with claims that "the sky is falling in Howard County Circuit Court," but added that he would appoint two retired judges to help temporarily and ask the General Assembly to authorize a fifth circuit judge in Howard next year.
"Even if we put a judge in Howard County this time, I don't think the county would have come up with the money to support it because of the financial problems it faces," he said.
The county would have to contribute $70,000 toward the salaries of a court reporter, secretary and bailiff for an additional judge.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he was "not sure" whether the county would have found the money "because we never received a proposal to do it."