Reality descends on nominee for District Court

January 03, 1993|By Mike Far | Mike Far,abaugh Staff Writer

Emory A. Plitt Jr. will spend a lot of time on the road as the state's newest District Court judge.

After being sworn in Feb. 5, the Harford resident will sit three days a week in Bel Air and two days biweekly in Frederick. He will also sit in Baltimore city or county -- an itinerary that makes him somewhat of a designated judge.

"Judges do get sick and need vacations," he said. "I'm just glad I'll have the opportunity to fill in wherever I am needed most."

Mr. Plitt, 49, has almost 22 years in government service and has headed the legal department in Harford County for the past two years. He has a keen interest in history and has not forgotten his roots.

"After the initial elation [of being nominated Nov. 27 by Gov. William Donald Schaefer], the reality begins to sit in," he said. "I was born in Southwest Baltimore -- they call it Barre Circle now -- but it was Pigtown in those days and still is.

"You remember what it was like, all the work you've done in yourprofessional career, and realize the responsibility you've been given. It is a little overwhelming at first."

Even so, Mr. Plitt has quickly settled into a routine. State guidelines on sentencing -- printed material about 3 inches thick -- have become a nightly companion.

"I also watched two very informative videotapes on sentencing guidelines," he said. "There's a lot to learn."

He is a graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Baltimore Law School, and he lectures part time at Villa Julie College.

One of his favorite challenges is to offer a free dinner to any student who can devise a better legal system.

"I've never had to pay for a dinner yet," he said, using the story to make his point that a critical view of the legal system must be tempered with a practical approach.

Problems in the legal profession are no different than in others, Mr. Plitt said, citing the medical, accounting, business and insurance professions and then explaining the influence of the English courts on the American system.

"Our system works amazingly well," he concluded, "especially in the area of civil justice."

The criminal justice system is another matter, he said.

"You have a whole different set of considerations there," he said before launching into a brief discussion of the Constitution with its safeguards for individual rights.

"The Constitution is not a matter of convenience," he said. "Some think criminals have too many rights until they find themselves in trouble with the law."

Mr. Plitt balances the explanation with his second point -- public expectations of the criminal justice system.

He defines punishment (from the Greek "to impose sanction" and "to teach"), discusses rehabilitation and blends in a judge's four options: imprisonment, fines, restitution and community service.

"No two cases are alike," he said. "You have to listen and weigh the risks. Was this offense an aberration? Will this offender likely be back in court, or has he learned a lesson?"

Mr. Plitt's legal experience includes 20 years in the Attorney General's Office, almost 10 as principal counsel for public safety and the Department of Corrections, seven years as chief counsel for the Maryland State Police, and representation of all 24 Sheriffs Departments.

His appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

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