Getting a close look at judicial system

Legislators tour courts, see impact of laws they pass

December 08, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Some of Carroll's "big movers and shakers" - state legislators to Chamber of Commerce members - joined an annual courthouse tour yesterday, getting a close look at the judicial system.

Although the Judicial Ride-Along Program was initially aimed at legislators - to understand the impact of the laws they pass - the tour has been expanded in recent years to include the county commissioners and members of the Chamber of Commerce.

"It's kind of fun for us to do," said Raymond E. Beck Sr., administrative judge for Carroll County Circuit Court.

About 20 people took part in yesterday's program, which began at the courthouse annex for a tour of the Circuit Court, the state's primary trial court, and the Juvenile Court, said attorney John S. Constantinides, their escort.

After lunch, the group attended a session of District Court, which handles misdemeanors and lesser civil matters, and wound up at Carroll County Detention Center, also in Westminster.

The tour gave legislators and others a chance to raise questions and for judges to discuss a range of judicial and social concerns.

Republican Del. Joseph M. Getty asked about Carroll's new District Court building. Beck said the bidding process has been delayed about six months, pushing its opening into 2003. Once open, the state District Court and other offices will move in - freeing space for a much-needed fourth Circuit Court judgeship.

The bad news, Beck said, is the state sees no need for a third District Court judge in Carroll until 2020. District Judge Marc G. Rasinsky said he and Judge JoAnn M. Ellinghaus Jones are fielding an ever-increasing caseload.

"That's off the charts," said Beck, who suggested Getty and the others present, Sen. Larry E. Haines and Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, both Republicans, spur the state to hasten the creation of a third District Court judgeship for Carroll.

Judges and legislators also discussed the pros and cons of the expansion of protective orders beyond domestic violence to include neighbor feuds and bus-stop bullies. The expansion of protective orders has been so broad that it has caused problems for the court system.

But Jones said the law could be helpful. For example, protective order would now be available in the case of one young girl who was sent a threatening drawing by a schoolmate.

Francis M. Arnold, who retired after years on the Circuit Court, told of crack-addicted mothers living with babies on the street in Carroll County and urged the politicians never to legalize drugs, even marijuana, although it might be a losing fight.

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who has handled adoptions for many years, told of that rare thing - "the happiness generated in that courtroom." He said changes in the law have allowed adoptions to proceed much faster.

The judges have expanded the guest list because "our county is really small, and we know all of our legislators and we get good support from them," in contrast to more populous counties, Beck said.

One reason politicians elsewhere might not know judges, Beck said, is the number of lawyer-legislators in the General Assembly has dropped to fewer than 17 percent, down from the 30-plus percent when he went to Annapolis as a delegate in 1974. Beck served as a state delegate and as state senator before his appointment to the Circuit Court in 1989.

"The legislature is no longer a 90-day job," he said, "and the days when you could spend half the day in Annapolis and half the day at your law office - those days are long gone. I think fewer lawyers are applying for the job."

Bonnie Grady, the chamber's executive director, and board member Michael L. Mason agreed the experience had been enlightening.

"It's really a full day," said Bobbie Err, Carroll's Circuit Court administrator. "It's an excellent program."

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