Circuit judge releases 30 more 'deadbeat dads'

December 17, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- An Anne Arundel Circuit judge released another 30 fathers jailed for failing to pay child support yesterday, wrapping up the current backlog and bringing the number released to 61.

The releases, which began Friday when Judge Bruce C. Williams ordered that two fathers be set free, set the stage for a legal battle between the Anne Arundel state's attorney and the public defender's office over how the hundreds of parental nonsupport complaints brought to court each year are handled.

"The question is, can the judge find anyone else to let out?" State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said last night after the releases.

Mr. Weathersbee said he will meet with representatives from the Maryland Attorney General's office today to see if he can appeal Friday's ruling by Judge Williams that opened the cell door.

"If we can appeal it, we're going to appeal it," Mr. Weathersbee said.

The fathers appearing before Judge Williams in the last three days of back-to-back support hearings have been assigned to the live-in and work-out unit at the jail, which allows them to leave the jail for work. Most have told the judge that they have been unable to find work while incarcerated.

Judge Williams ordered the fathers he released to appear before him again in the next few months. He said they face jail if they have not found work or cannot show they are looking for a job.

Judge Williams ruled Friday that fathers charged with nonsupport were not properly advised of their right to counsel before being jailed.

He also said in the 17-page ruling that the county's other judges were not adequately determining whether defendants facing jail had the ability to pay support before setting amounts required for their release.

The ruling had been sought by county public defender Alan R. Friedman, who said an increasing number of fathers were being jailed for longer periods over the past year, clogging jail cells in an already crowded detention center.

He said jailing delinquent fathers is being used not to extract payments, but as a form of punishment.

Others say jail sentences have been used as a last resort and have proven an effective way to get delinquent fathers to pay child support.

"I think that fathers have a responsibility to support their children," said Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., who has been jailing most of the "deadbeat dads" in recent months.

Judge Williams' ruling is not binding on Judge Duckett -- or the county's other circuit judges.

In the wake of the ruling, Judge Duckett said he would likely "inquire a little more deeply" into a father's work status before committing him. But he said that jail will remain an option.

"The guy who doesn't have a job, I'm only putting him in jail if it's systematically shown that he's been avoiding getting a job, that he's been avoiding work," Judge Duckett said. "They have a responsibility, and I think that somebody, and not the taxpayer, ought to be paying for these people's children."

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