Short tempers at courthouse

Poor conditions: As judges attack backlog, facilities cannot cope with needs of potential jurors, employees.

Getting Away With Murder

April 14, 1999

TEMPERS ARE short at the Baltimore City courthouse these days. Efforts to reduce case backlogs have necessitated summoning so many potential jurors they have nowhere to sit. Vending machines are empty. Of 12 public toilets at the Mitchell Courthouse, only two women's and three men's are working.

Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway complains of "substandard" overall conditions -- falling plaster, dirty hallways, dusty and clogged vents and roach infestation. "This is certainly an emergency situation and one that should be given immediate attention," he wrote recently.

Meanwhile, he is asking the state to fund 15 additional clerical positions because "the criminal division of the clerk's office is about to sink in paperwork."

Baltimore's criminal justice system is like a boat full of holes. As one hole is plugged, water gushes in from another one.

The city is responsible for maintaining the Mitchell Courthouse and the annex on the east side of Calvert Street. Although parts of the latter have been renovated, the overall condition of the complex is poor. This is inexcusable.

The shabbiness of the city courthouse does nothing to increase public respect for the criminal justice system. It is a particular affront to jurors, who often make a considerable personal sacrifice to fulfill their civic duty.

With the Circuit Court now routinely sending notices to 600 potential jurors each day in order to assemble the 225 needed for the jury pool, many Baltimoreans find themselves asked to serve at least once a year. Their $10 daily compensation doesn't cover parking, to say nothing of a lost day's wages. If jury duty also involves personal inconveniences inside the courthouse, fewer citizens will want to serve.

Since The Sun started calling attention to endless postponements of even serious cases, the Circuit Court has taken steps to see that murder and armed robbery suspects do not get off only because their trials have been postponed too long. Determined measures are now needed to make sure that conditions inside the courthouse are such that jurors and employees are treated with respect.

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