Governor adds 4 city judges, AIDS drugs funds to budget Angelos sought funding to speed asbestos cases

March 22, 1996|By Peter Jensen and Jonathan Bor | Peter Jensen and Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening submitted a supplemental budget yesterday that includes money to hire four extra Circuit Court judges for Baltimore and provide new AIDS-fighting drugs to more than 1,200 low-income residents.

By recommending that the state spend $469,000 to hire the judges and nearly $78,000 for four clerks to support them, Mr. Glendening has cast his support for Baltimore lawyer and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who has sought the additional judges to handle a backlog of asbestos-related cases.

More than 12,000 personal injury asbestos lawsuits are awaiting trial in the city's Circuit Court, and some have been pending for a decade. Mr. Angelos' law firm represents most of the plaintiffs.

Appeals court chief opposed

The money is tied to a bill pending in the state Senate that, if approved, would authorize the new judges. Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Maryland Court of Appeals has opposed the expenditure.

But it is supported by Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, the head of Baltimore's Circuit Court, who has argued that city dockets are hopelessly jammed and that the asbestos cases in particular have received "fourth-class" status.

"The governor was convinced that this is a reasonable way to reduce the backlog," said John W. Frece, Mr. Glendening's communications director.

Mr. Glendening added $500,000 to a program that helps patients pay for medications needed to combat acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The move was a response to the recent spate of new drugs approved by the federal government drugs that could prolong survival if patients could afford to pay thousands more a year.

"This will give us the financial resources to carry on the fight," Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman said yesterday, addressing several hundred people at an AIDS conference sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Maryland supports more than 400 patients through its AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which has been operating since 1987. Many are "working poor" who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford medications because they lack insurance.

The program has been run on about $800,000 a year in federal money, but health officials advised Mr. Glendening last fall to find an additional $100,000 in state funds to keep pace with advanced therapies. The money was included in his original budget proposal.

Maryland's quandary

But the fast pace of discovery of AIDS drugs has taken everybody by surprise. Without a larger infusion of money, Maryland would either have to reduce the number of patients served or deny coverage for new therapies, Mr. Wasserman said.

In November, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug called 3TC that boosts the immune system and lowers the concentration of the disease-causing virus in infected people. More recently, it approved three drugs that belong to a category called protease inhibitors, which hamper the virus' ability to reproduce.

The drugs are supposed to be used in combination with more conventional medications giving patients a multipronged defense against AIDS. But the regimen could double or triple the cost of treatment to nearly $12,000 a year.

Yesterday's $1.2 million supplemental spending plan for fiscal 1997 also contains $100,000 for a computer demonstration project at Logan Elementary School in Dundalk.

Bell Atlantic is co-sponsoring the project, which will hook 104 third-graders and teachers into cyberspace through computers in their homes and classroom.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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