Judges plan evidence forum to educate city's attorneys

Meeting stems from clash over use of discovery

April 10, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

After several high-profile clashes earlier this year about the exchange of evidence in criminal cases, a forum will be held in May in Baltimore to discuss evidence law.

Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell initially proposed the forum after the trial for four men accused of one of the worst mass murders in city history had to be delayed in February because the prosecutor did not disclose certain evidence to defense attorneys.

Two other cases came to court around the same time and highlighted problems with discovery -- the exchange of evidence. That prompted several judges to criticize the city prosecutor's office.

"Discovery remains an issue," Mitchell said in a recent interview.

Mitchell said that panelists at the forum will include Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and Gary E. Bair, who heads the appellate division of the state attorney general's office. He said the panel may also include a representative of the public defender's office, which represents the vast majority of defendants in Baltimore. It's target audience is city attorneys.

The forum's goal of educating lawyers is a sharp contrast to Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's take on the problem. In February, when she described efforts to remedy discovery issues to City Council members, she said at a public hearing that judges -- not her lawyers -- needed training on evidence rules.

Jessamy said she had been in contact with Mitchell and the attorney general's office "about what we can do in terms of training judges as to discovery and disclosure issues." She also said her office had contacted the attorney general's office about a judge's ruling that was critical of a prosecutor and was told that the judge was "inaccurate."

Mitchell and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. dispute Jessamy's statements. Mitchell said he never discussed training judges on discovery issues. Curran said no one in his office told Jessamy's lawyers that the judge's ruling was erroneous.

Said Curran: "We did not say what was attributed to us."

Echoed Mitchell: "This has always been focused on the practitioners, not the judiciary."

Asked recently about the discrepancies, Jessamy said that her "statement on the record stands."

Mitchell said the forum will be held May 23 in his courtroom.

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