Nearly 100 volunteer attorneys were honored yesterday at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse for eliminating the civil case backlog in the city.
"It's nothing short of a miracle," said Maryland's top judge, Robert C. Murphy, as he addressed lawyers and courthouse officials celebrating the defeat of the civil lawsuit logjam.
The volunteer attorneys had worked as unpaid mediators once a month since October, nudging the parties in 10 civil suits each day toward out-of-court settlements.
Baltimore's Circuit Court had been choking under the weight of 4,505 civil cases not even scheduled, and a projected waiting time of nearly two years.
"We have totally eliminated the backlog," said Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller, coordinator of the mediation program.
Judge Murphy, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and Chief Judge Alan M. Wilner of the Court of Special Appeals thanked the lawyers for their free time.
Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan joked that there have been complaints the cases are proceeding too fast now. He referred to the new docket, with the waiting time reduced to about a year, as the "Rocket Docket."
According to Judge Heller, the 25 city Circuit judges realized last year they had to attack the backlog because the main civil caseload was growing by 600 cases a month, and they had to dispose of 5,256 felony and 3,290 misdemeanor criminal cases filed that year.
Bud McManus, one of the lawyers honored yesterday, said he sees his volunteer work revising a stereotype. "Anything I can do to help the community change its attitude toward attorneys, I'm going to do," he said.