Rehrmann seeks a fifth circuit judge

February 27, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Ten years ago, Harford County had four Circuit Court judges to handle the 4,085 civil and criminal cases filed in a single year.

By 1993, the number of cases filed annually had climbed to more than 6,500, and Harford still had only four judges.

The county is long overdue for another judge, says County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

"These raw numbers alone clearly demonstrate the urgent need to provide Harford County with a fifth judicial position and the dollars necessary to fund the position," the executive wrote in a briefing to the Harford County delegation recently.

With the delegates' help, she's hoping to convince other lawmakers in Annapolis to authorize a fifth Circuit Court judge for the county in the fiscal 1995 budget.

Harford Del. Donald C. Fry says this may be the year the county executive gets her wish.

"I think the county will be authorized for a full judge, but the funding may not be available until later in the fiscal year," perhaps as late as January or March 1995, he said.

Mr. Fry is vice chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on education and transportation, which is responsible for approving the judiciary budget in the House.

He said a recent report by the Administrative Office of the Courts in Annapolis, which analyzes statistics and prepares the judiciary budget, substantiates the county's claim.

According to a formula the office uses to determine the need for judges, Harford is the "third-neediest county in the state," said Mr. Fry, a District 35A Democrat.

The formula takes into consideration the population per judge, the number of civil and criminal cases filed, the number of judges assigned to the county and the number of cases projected for the future.

The Administrative Office concluded that Harford is in need of 1.7 more Circuit Court judges, Mr. Fry said. Only Montgomery County, in need of 2.3 judges, and Prince George's, which needs 2.1, are worse off, he said.

"I think the statistics show another judge is needed, and I'm all for it," said Sen. William H. Amoss, a District 35 Democrat and member of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

"We need more attention to family law, and getting that attention means getting more judge time," Mr. Amoss said. "This would give them the tools they need."

The judiciary budget has had its hearing in the Senate, where the governor's budget was first introduced, but no budget decisions will be made before late this week, the senator said.

Mr. Fry said the governor's proposed budget includes a recommendation that Prince George's, Harford and Howard counties get an additional full-time judge this year and that Charles County be authorized to receive a part-time judge.

"I anticipate that all of those recommendations will get money for part of the year, but just when the funding will kick in hasn't been determined," Mr. Fry said.

He estimated the cost of a new judgeship in Harford at $175,000 to $185,000 a year, to be shared by the state and county.

Mrs. Rehrmann said that the county expects its share of the cost to be $55,000 in fiscal 1995, assuming the position is not funded by the state until January.

She said that would cover six months of staffing and a one-time cost for furniture and equipment.

The state pays the judge's salary.

"We have a speedy trial rule to keep in mind, and we desperately need another jury trial courtroom," she said.

The last Circuit Court judge was added to the county in 1983 to alleviate a backlog of civil and criminal cases.

In 1984, 1,237 criminal cases were filed.

By the end of fiscal 1993, that number had doubled to 2,526, Mrs. Rehrmann said. Nearly as many criminal cases -- 2,229 -- were pending.

On the civil side, the numbers were even greater. Last year, there were 4,071 cases filed and 5,092 still pending.

Circuit Court judges are appointed by the governor, based on recommendations of a committee of attorneys and lay people, and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

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