Murphy warns of family court cost STATE HOUSE REPORT

January 16, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

The state's top judge told the General Assembly yesterday that the creation of a family court in Maryland would accomplish "absolutely nothing" unless the court were properly funded.

After his annual address on the state's judiciary, Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy estimated that roughly 30 extra judges would be needed to staff a family court, which would handle divorce, juvenile delinquency and other family matters now heard in the Circuit Court system.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has said he will ask the legislature to back a measure that would set up a framework for a family court. But the Schaefer administration doesn't see the need for additional judges and therefore doubts a family court would be costly.

"Let's pass it this year and we'll fund it next year," Mr. Schaefer told reporters after Judge Murphy's address, saying there is no money this year.

Two state study groups have called for a family court -- either as a separate entity or as a division of the Circuit Court system -- to improve what they called the inefficient and fragmented way Maryland deals with family law.

Mr. Schaefer has proposed a separate court, which would require a constitutional amendment and ratification by voters at referendum. However, David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist, said the administration would consider a family court within the Circuit Court system if proposed by the legislature. That proposal would not require a constitutional amendment.

Under either scenario, Mr. Iannucci said, there shouldn't be any need for additional judges. Since half of the Circuit Court caseload involves family matters, there could be a shift in judges to the family court.

Judge Murphy said the Circuit Court system already is burdened with "horrendous caseloads." He noted that he warned legislative leaders last year of the "compelling need" for more judges. And both state reports on the family court called for judges who are specially trained in family law, he said.

The 123-judge Circuit Court system will cost the state $62 million to operate this year.

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