Montgomery County asks court to block city schools settlement

December 10, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

During a hearing that raised concerns about the role of judges in state policy-making, Montgomery County urged the state's highest court yesterday to block a settlement that would send millions in new aid to Baltimore schools.

Attorney Roger W. Titus argued that the settlement affects schools and taxpayers in the counties, and therefore should not have been decided without Montgomery County's participation.

He asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to void the settlement and send the case back to Baltimore Circuit Court to be tried -- or settled again with the county at the negotiating table.

Yesterday's hearing in Annapolis centered on the county's attempt to join a lawsuit about the quality of Baltimore's schools, brought against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union in December 1994.

Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan thwarted Montgomery County's bid to join the case last year. The county appealed, and Frederick County has joined it.

Some appellate judges suggested that the Circuit Court may have overstepped its bounds by proposing the settlement in a consent decree signed by Kaplan. The issue for them is the separation of the powers, they said.

"It provides for things I thought only the legislature could do," Judge John C. Eldridge said. " What business does any of this have in a court judgment?"

Titus said the settlement appears to be a mandate to the legislature that would enrich one jurisdiction at others' expense -- despite Maryland officials' insistence that the state budget can handle the settlement's proposed $254 million increase over five years for Baltimore.

Laura S. Shores, an attorney representing the ACLU, said Montgomery County should not have a role because the case affects only Baltimore City schools.

Pub Date: 12/10/96

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