Legislative session brought mixed results Raise for judges, bar library funding among successes

April 10, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

Maryland's legal community is looking back on the just-closed session of the General Assembly as a mixed bag of successes and setbacks.

Among the victories: winning a modest pay raise for judges and persuading lawmakers to raise money for the cash-strapped Library of the Baltimore Bar.

One of the setbacks was particularly stinging: the defeat of a bill that would have raised up to $4.5 million for poor people who need legal services.

That bill's failure comes at an especially bad time, say legal service advocates. Last year, Congress sharply reduced funding many legal programs, forcing backers of those programs to scramble for dollars.

"I am both surprised and disappointed. I thought there was a good chance this bill would pass," said Michael A. Millemann, a University of Maryland law professor who has worked extensively on programs involving legal aid.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, the bill's sponsor, said he expects to try again next year. "I would hope we could demonstrate to the committee that we are all better served, not just the poor, by providing legal assistance for people who have legal needs," the Baltimore Democrat said.

The bill, which died in a House of Delegates committee, would have raised money by collecting a surcharge when civil cases are filed in state district and circuit courts. That money would have gone to Legal Services Corp., which supports programs such as Legal Aid, the House of Ruth, the Public Justice Law Center and the Community Law Center.

Mr. Mille-mann said there are "no alternate plans" to raise money for those services. "The need is so overwhelming, we hoped the legislature would recognize it," he said.

Supporters of the Library of the Baltimore Bar had more success. Their bill is expected to raise about $350,000 for the library at the Clarence Mitchell Court House, which is used by private lawyers and attorneys in many city departments. The money will come from surcharges on civil and criminal cases filed in Baltimore Circuit Court and on cases filed in the Court of Appeals.

"The passage of the bill turns around the future of the bar library significantly," said H. Mark Stichel, president of the library's board and a lawyer at Piper & Marbury. "It allows us to restore some of the cuts we've made and to begin exploring an update of some of our technologies."

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the bill's sponsor in the House, said he hopes the new money put the library on a sound footing.

"I started my career as a lawyer and used that bar library a lot, sometimes until 1 o'clock in the morning," said Mr. Montague, a Democrat from Baltimore. "I wanted to make sure everybody has the same opportunity."

The General Assembly also passed a much-discussed bill that prohibits lawyers from mailing letters to prospective clients for 30 days after an accident or an arrest. Lawyers who violate the rule risk a range of penalties, including license revocation.

Many other bills affecting lawyers never made it into law. That list includes a comparative negligence bill, a bill requiring lawyers to take education courses and one that would add more non-lawyers to the Attorney Grievance Commission.

"All those terrible, nasty bills we opposed were killed," said Buz Winchester, director of legislative relations for the Maryland State Bar Association.

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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