Facing prospects that the already meager budget of Baltimore's judiciary will be further reduced, selected members of the city and state legal community are to meet today to develop solutions to cope with what is being called a "state of emergency."
"We are really afraid that the judicial system will find itself in gridlock," said George L. Russell Jr., a former judge serving as chairman of the Baltimore City Bar Association's committee examining the criminal justice system.
The committee hopes to devise a plan to restore funding to the city's Circuit and District courts. The plan would be given to the General Assembly before its next session.
The committee already has a great deal of standing with the General Assembly. Last year, it recommended that the state takeover the Baltimore City Jail, a recommendation the legislature accepted.
This year, the committee wants to find some way of offsetting budget cuts to the judicial system. City government, reeling from a $27.2 million cut in state grants, has asked the court system to reduce its costs.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke already has asked the state's attorney's office to cut $400,000 from its budget. As a result, prosecutors will be furloughed on the day after Thanksgiving, the first of six furlough days. By not having any prosecutors in court that day, all scheduled criminal cases will have to be delayed. Such delays can put the state at risk of violating the so-called Hicks Rule, which guarantees defendants a trial within 180 days of their arraignment.
"We have gone from a ship that had a few leaks into one that has taken a torpedo broadside, and we cannot bail fast enough," said Stuart O. Simms, city state's attorney.