Plan for quick handling of minor cases delayed

June 22, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Speedier justice for minor cases in Baltimore's court system has been delayed until at least September.

Officials on the oversight committee steering court reform hoped to have a program running by July 1 that would rid the overburdened system of weak cases in 24 hours. But committee co-chairman John H. Lewin Jr. said yesterday the time frame is unreasonable.

Prosecutors and public defenders need to be hired and trained, and $5 million allocated from city and state funds for more personnel and changes in the courtroom at the city jail where many of the cases will be handled will not be available until July 1, Lewin said.

He said officials will start a "test" run in August at Eastside Courthouse on North Avenue.

"The month of August hopefully will give us the track record we need to go forward," said Lewin, coordinator of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which includes representatives from city, state and federal justice agencies.

Lewin said he hopes to have probation violation cases taken care of on the fast track. By law, defendants who violate probation must appear before the judges who sentenced them. That often means they wait in jail weeks or months.

LaMont W. Flanagan, director of Pre-Trial Services and Detention, said alleged probation violators or defendants arrested for not appearing in court take up about 40 percent of the jail beds, though they are 6 percent of the intake.

"The topic ... is on the table, but no one is consuming the plate," Flanagan said yesterday. "It's an issue that hasn't been tackled."

Judge David B. Mitchell, chief of the felony criminal docket, said he is discussing a rule change that would allow judges to relinquish control over defendants.

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