Owings Mills, Dundalk District Court facilities are spared from closing for two more years Legislators buy time to get governor to save them

April 09, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

An article in some editions yesterday incorrectly stated who appoints the chief judge of Maryland's District Court. The choice is made by the chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Baltimore County legislators have won another two years of operation for District Courts in Owings Mills and Dundalk -- facilities that the court system's chief judge says are "obsolete and unnecessary."

While a bill passed Saturday in the General Assembly seems merely to delay the courts' mandated closings from 1997 until July 1999, it also buys time for the legislators, who are hoping to win a long struggle with Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney.


Judge Sweeney reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Sept. 17. County officials hope they can persuade Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the judge he names to head the Maryland District Court to keep all five of the county's courts open.

In 1992, the judge set the clock ticking on the Owings Mills and Dundalk courts by helping to inspire a last-minute change in state budget language limiting the number of courts in Baltimore County to three, once a new Towson courthouse opened in 1994.

The move went unnoticed by county legislators until more than two months later.

The next year, they won passage of a bill delaying the closings to 1997, partly by agreeing in writing not to press for further delays. That agreement was violated this year, but state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, an Owings Mills Democrat who sponsored this year's bill, noted: "I wasn't a signatory to that letter" She also said, "Sweeney is insane over these courts -- I don't know why."

But Judge Sweeney says keeping the two courts operating in rented quarters costs the state $250,000 a year -- money that could be better applied.

The new, larger courthouse in Towson gave Baltimore County three modern, state-owned court buildings -- the others are in Catonsville and Essex -- with as many courtrooms as more populous counties such as Montgomery and Prince George's, he argues.

Of the extension for Dundalk and Owings Mills, he said yesterday, "I regret that the General Assembly has seen fit to fund them."

Baltimore County leaders disagree with Judge Sweeney.

"We have the fastest growing population in the county in Owings Mills," County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said recently after lobbying House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat, for help saving the courts.

"We don't want to lose it," Dundalk's Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., said of his community court. "It keeps that shopping center going," the Democratic senator said, arguing that people drawn to central Dundalk by the court help the economically depressed area.

Dundalk Del. John S. Arnick, also a Democrat, says that public transportation to Essex is difficult for his constituents and parking is scarce at the court there.

The Owings Mills court, in an office building at Painters Mill and Dolfield roads, is the only one in the county without a metal detector. Former Del. Richard Rynd, whose partnership owns the building, said he hopes to close one entrance to the court area so a metal detector can be installed.

Ms. Hollinger said she plans to meet with county officials to find a better, perhaps permanent place for the Owings Mills court -- maybe in Pikesville, attached to a new $3.6 million fire station planned for Walker Avenue at Old Court Road.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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