Ten months ago, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned the child molestation conviction of James T. Brown Jr. because his trial had been delayed many times in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The court's action brought to light problems in the city's court system that led to large-scale reforms, including a crackdown on trial delays and construction of courtrooms.
Yesterday, the court reinstated Brown's conviction, ruling that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated because any delay did not harm his defense.
The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled last summer that Brown's right to a speedy trial under the state's 180-day law was not violated and sent the case back to the intermediate appellate to consider the constitutional issue, resulting in yesterday's ruling.
In yesterday's ruling, the three-judge panel conceded that 19 months from arrest to trial was a "cause for concern under the Sixth Amendment" right to a speedy trial, but said it would not give heavy weight to the repeated unavailability of judges.
Brown's lawyer, William H. Murphy Jr., said he is considering asking the state's highest court to hear what would be a second appeal in this case.
"Without meaning to do so, the Court of Special Appeals has, by its language, trivialized the vitally important right to a speedy trial," Murphy said.
He said yesterday's ruling, coupled with a July ruling in the case by the state's highest court, has "eliminated the right to a speedy trial by not using this as a hammer to solve the solvable administrative problems" in the city's courts.
But Haven H. Kodeck, Baltimore deputy state's attorney, said the ruling "convinces us that we were right from the beginning." But, he said, the spotlight led to important steps toward unclogging the court system.
Brown, 49, of the 1200 block of St. Agnes Lane in Baltimore County was convicted of molesting a 12-year-old girl at her mother's home in 1996. His case was first scheduled for trial on Sept. 25, 1996, but bounced from judge to judge until he was tried on Oct. 28, 1997, and convicted. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
On appeal, Brown argued that state law requiring he be tried in 180 days was violated as was his constitutional right to a speedy trial. In December, the Court of Special Appeals sided with him on the 180-day rule.
But in July, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and ordered the Court of Special Appeals to consider the constitutional issues raised by Brown that were the subject of yesterday's ruling.