Time to try full-time judge

Central Booking: Verbal sparring is best resolved by seeing how well quick resolution of cases works.

Getting away with MURDER

March 01, 2000

DO NOT be distracted by the histrionics of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Chief District Judge Martha F. Rasin. The important thing is that both of them have proposed a way to eliminate the longstanding bottleneck at Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center. A compromise can -- and must -- be worked out.

Ms. Rasin says she's ready to post a judge at Central Booking

va01 five days a week. Mr. O'Malley wants one every day.

Seven-day coverage, including holidays, makes the most sense. Arrests don't stop over weekends or on holidays.

Without a judge at Central

va01 Booking to hear cases every day, the jail fills up with non-violent defendants who can't make bail. After the President's Day holiday weekend, for example, the judge had to conduct two and a half times the average number of bail reviews.

In the end, though, the dispute over five- or seven-day scheduling is a secondary issue. The main issue is what the Central Booking judge should do.

Ms. Rasin would limit the judge's mandate to bail review hearings and certain guilty pleas. She wants to prove her long-standing contention that there is not enough for a full-time judge to do. She abhors the idea that her judges might have to work on evenings, weekends or holidays.

Mr. O'Malley, by contrast, wants the Central Booking judge to operate a regular District Court during an eight-hour shift. With a full docket, the judge would have more than enough to do.

There's a simple way to end this tiff and see who's right. Since Ms. Rasin maintains her limited-docket court has not proven its usefulness, let's try Mr. O'Malley's concept for six months and see whether it works any better.

The bail-bond industry and some attorneys oppose bringing a full-time judge to Central Booking. They fear their businesses would be adversely affected by early resolution of cases that now languish on the dockets for months. Like Chief Judge Rasin, those two groups are placing their self-interests above the public good.

Over the years, repeated recommendations have urged placing a full-time judge at Central Booking to stop clogging the court system at the point of intake. Up to now, the various self-interest groups have managed to defeat these proposals. No wonder the problem remains unresolved.

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