A Baltimore man who is more than $17,000 behind in child support payments owes the money to the same state agency that has been his only means of support for the past 12 years.
Since 1980, Calvin Thornton, a 39-year-old man whose only income is a welfare check, has failed to pay any child support to the Westminster woman who is his former wife and the mother of his 12-year-old child.
But, court records show, the rights to the child were transferred from the mother to the Department of Social Services, which means that Thornton no longer owes the money to his former wife, but to the same agency that sends him a welfare check every month.
"It defies common sense for the department to pay him for welfare for his disability and at the same time initiate a criminal procedure against him to collect the child support money," said attorney Judson K. Larrimore.
Larrimore, a Carroll County public defender, persuaded Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. last week to postpone Thornton's trial indefinitely.
Beck also allowed Thornton to be freed from the Carroll County Detention Center, where he had been held on $7,000 full bond since his arrest in March.
Although the southwest Baltimore man is currently held at the Baltimore County Detention Center for failing to pay a fine in a traffic case there, Beck's order calls for Thornton to be watched by the Drinking Driver Monitoring Program and to be admitted to the Westminster Rescue Mission alcohol rehabilitation program.
Thornton's case was an example of a bureaucracy gone haywire, as far as Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown was concerned.
It was the Sheriff's Department that notified Baltimore police officers of the arrest warrant, which wasn't issued until February.
A child support case is considered a civil court matter until the State's Attorney's Office decides to prosecute it in criminal court.
Criminal non-support of a minor child is a misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to three years in jail.
At the time of the arrest, Brown said he couldn't understand why it took 12 years to arrest and charge Thornton.
"What are they doing over there?" he asked in March. "Here's a guy they've known about for 12 years, and only now do they have him arrested."
Thornton "is currently entitled to welfare benefits from the Department of Social Services and at the same time is being prosecuted for [money] owed to Department of Social Services," Larrimore wrote in his motion seeking Thornton's release from custody.
James F. Brewer, the assistant state's attorney who prosecutes child support cases, could not be reached for comment yesterday.