Baltimore County would lose district courts in Owings Mills and Dundalk when a new district courthouse is built in Towson under a plan to reduce the number of court locations in the county from five to three.
The change would occur by late 1994. The plan escaped the attention of Baltimore County's legislative delegation on the final day of the four-day special General Assembly session in April when a House-Senate conference committee amended the capital budget by inserting language limiting the number of district courts in the county to three.
The legislature also cut $3.4 million to renovate a building on the grounds of the state-owned Rosewood Center in Owings Mills for use as a new Northwest District Court.
The plan, which is now supported by Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the District Court of Maryland, has left some county legislators fuming.
"It's political retribution for the tax votes," said Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a north county Republican.
He said "the leadership" approved the changes to punish Baltimore County for failing to support the governor's budget and tax increases.
State Sen. Janice Piccinini disagreed. The north county Democrat said Gov. William Donald Schaefer didn't know about the last-minute changes. She said she is furious about losing the Owings Mills court and blamed the loss on county lobbyist Patrick Roddy, who Ms. Piccinini said failed to inform her of the amendment soon enough to try to fight it.
Mr. Ehrlich called Ms. Piccinini's charge "absolutely ridiculous."
State Sen. Norman Stone, a Dundalk Democrat, said he will sponsor a bill next year to guarantee the Dundalk court's existence, claiming it is needed for the revitalization of the original business district there.
Mr. Stone said he didn't learn of the changes until weeks after the legislature adjourned. "It was a well-kept secret," he said.
Del. Louis L. DePazzo, another Dundalk Democrat, said he didn't learn of the loss of the District Court there until several weeks ago. Del. Connie C. Galliazzo, also a Dundalk Democrat, said she didn't know about it until this week.
Democratic Del. John S. Arnick, also of Dundalk, said he is outraged that a state law which specified five courts for the county was changed by merely amending a budget bill. He complained that there are not enough places to park now at the Essex court, a situation which will worsen after the Dundalk court closes.
The consolidation plan turns on replacement of the three courtrooms now in Towson. They are located in rented office space on the first floor of a parking garage on Allegheny Avenue.
Awaiting approval by the state Board of Public Works is a contract with the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, which would build an $8 million, 52,000 square-foot building that would be leased to the state for 20 years, after which the state could buy the structure.
The building would have five courtrooms, with room for construction of a sixth, said Kenneth F. Mills Jr., director of the revenue authority.
The new building would be on Chesapeake Avenue near York Road next to the new high-rise revenue authority parking garage and the Towson branch library.
According to the state capital budget law, completion of the new courthouse in Towson will limit the county to "no more than three District court facilities. . . ."
Because the state built modern district courthouses in Catonsville and Essex, the rented quarters in Dundalk and Owings Mills would be eliminated.
Judge Sweeney, in a June 19 letter to Ms. Piccinini, wrote, "I can think of no possible basis on which I could argue that there is a need for more than three District Court buildings in Baltimore County."
He compared the county to Prince George's and Montgomery counties, both of which have slightly higher populations but only two District Court buildings each.
Giving Baltimore County three courthouses, he said, would make up for its larger area and would mean each court would handle the same average number of cases each year -- about 30,000 -- as do the courts in Prince George's and Montgomery.