Defender's office expects clogged court

Its staffing not increased despite more prosecutors

April 12, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore prosecutors welcomed an infusion of state funds to expand two violent crime units, the city's public defender worried that additional cases will swamp her lawyers - possibly causing trial delays.

"It is a no-brainer that if you add prosecutors, you need to add public defenders," said District Public Defender Elizabeth L. Julian. "Are we supposed to split ourselves in half?"

Julian and her boss, State Public Defender Stephen E. Harris, asked the state legislature for five new lawyers for Baltimore's office this year to keep up with increased prosecutions of violent crimes. Their request was rejected, they said.

The city state's attorneys office, however, secured $1 million in new funds from the state in the legislative session to expand the homicide and handgun units by four prosecutors each.

The U.S. Constitution entitles all defendants to a lawyer and in Baltimore, the public defender's office represents the vast majority of criminal defendants. Prosecutors greatly outnumber public defenders and the situation has worsened, Julian said, adding that she plans to seek additional funding.

She said the situation is akin to the one three years ago when the then-administrative judge opened two new felony courts. The move occurred despite the public defender's office objection that it did not have enough staff. The office turned away more than 350 defendants charged with felony drug crimes - though they qualified for representation. The ensuing conflict won 10 new lawyers for the office and seeming recognition from state lawmakers and court officials that defense lawyers are needed for the system to run efficiently.

"This is a giant step backwards." Julian said.

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