Schmoke won't halt drug sweeps

June 23, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin and Eric Siegel | Kate Shatzkin and Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Norris P. West contributed to this article.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he would try to find a way to keep his police commissioner's mass drug sweeps from jamming up the rest of the city's criminal justice system -- without backing off the raids.

As if to prove the point, police yesterday executed the latest in the series of raids that Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier initiated more than a year ago. Fifteen people were arrested in the Broadway East community, the third raid in the area since May 17. Police seized 600 gel caps of heroin, one-eighth of a gram of heroin powder, 35 vials of cocaine and $4,000.

A state's attorney's office internal memorandum last month stated that arrests generated by the raids and other police activity are bringing about "an imminent crisis in the Circuit Court" because there are not enough judges or attorneys to handle all the cases.

In the memo, obtained by The Sun, Assistant State's Attorney Alan C. Woods III predicted that the sweeps and other police activity would flood the Circuit Court with 7,482 felony defendants by the end of this year -- 1,600 more than in 1994. The burgeoning narcotics docket will claim another full courtroom in September, which could delay trials for homicides and other serious offenses.

Mr. Schmoke, a former Baltimore state's attorney, said yesterday that he understood the squeeze the arrests are putting on prosecutors, public defenders and judges, and that he wants various players in the system to discuss how to help move cases through. But he said he did not plan to cut back on the sweeps.

"It's a real dilemma for us," he said. "On one hand, the communities want us to keep the pressure on the open-air drug activity. On the other hand, we know that it puts pressure on the rest of the system."

Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals said he planned to recruit retired circuit judges from other parts of the state to hear cases in Baltimore. One judge is leaving the city court this summer and another may appointed to the federal bench by fall. Four retired judges already are hearing civil matters.

The mayor reiterated his hope that the state eventually will assume the cost of the city Circuit Court system and its prosecutors.

But Mr. Schmoke has tried to get the state to start picking up the tab for the Circuit Court and state's attorney's office before, only to be rebuffed by the General Assembly. In the last session, a House committee killed a bill that would have paid for the jury system, court interpreters, courthouse security and judicial masters, as recommended by a gubernatorial task force.

The state already has assumed a large part of the cost of the city's criminal justice system -- the Baltimore City Detention Center, which the state took over in 1991.

Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, pointed out that even if the legislature did agree to pay for another judge, the city historically has fought paying for a new judge's staff. It costs about $125,000 a year to furnish a judge with a law clerk, secretary and other personnel.

Schmoke spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said he could not say whether the administration would take the same position if another judge is approved next year.

Mr. Woods reiterated yesterday that he does not want police to change what they're doing -- he just wants the court system to be able to keep up. "I just wish we could match them," he said.

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