Baltimore County plans to build 3 courtrooms $1.5 million project expected to begin in Jan.

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

Baltimore County is preparing to spend $1.5 million to build three long-planned courtrooms for its Circuit Court.

The county's chief Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. said there are 15 judges and only 14 courtrooms, with no room for visiting judges or expansion to handle rising caseloads.

"We are using grand jury rooms for hearings," he said. "We've been shuffling."

But Circuit Judge Robert E. Cadigan -- the jurist without a courtroom to call his own -- says he's had no problem finding one to use since his appointment in May 1994. "There always seems to be a vacant courtroom," he said, noting that his motto is: "Have gavel, will travel."

Holding occasional hearings in judicial conference rooms poses no problem, he said. "I'm just happy to be here."

Court administrator Peter J. Lally suggested that things may change. From mid-1993 to mid-1995, the number of court cases rose by 1,400 a year, to 26,810. Figures are not yet available for the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Courtrooms are sometimes needed for juvenile waiver hearings, for motions hearings or other proceedings, he said. "We're pretty pressed for space."

In addition, under a complicated state formula used to justify new judgeships, Baltimore County is close to needing another. That need could be fulfilled by the time the new courtrooms are completed next year.

Planning for the courtrooms began about 10 years ago, and county administrative officer Merreen E. Kelly said they've been in the capital budget for at least five years.

"We're just trying to meet the needs of the judges," he said. "We anticipate they'll eventually get more judges."

The new courtrooms will occupy 14,964 square feet on the south end of the fourth floor of the huge County Courts Building, which opened in 1975.

In addition to the courtrooms, holding cells for prisoners, judges' chambers and two jury rooms, and an office for Court of Special Appeals Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. are planned.

Bids on the new courtrooms are to go out next month, with work to begin in January.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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