Lawmakers invited to get firsthand look at judges' workload

Comments suggesting a less than busy bench called `demoralizing'

April 27, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Offended by comments that some of them do not work hard enough, Maryland judges gave legislators an invitation yesterday to sit by their side - on the bench, or perhaps at home late at night as they review pending cases.

The invitation was extended at a statewide judicial conference in Rockville, where Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller - quoted earlier as complaining that some Prince George's County judges finish work for the day by noon - was among several key legislative leaders in a question-and-answer session with the state's judges.

Most of Maryland's judges were there and politely handed down their opinion: They genuinely need an expanded bench.

Circuit judges, especially in Baltimore, said they often start early, work late and struggle to keep up with caseloads. Ellen M. Heller, administrative judge of the city's Circuit Court, invited legislators to spend a day with any of its 30 judges. And Ellen L. Hollander, a former city circuit judge now on the Court of Special Appeals, said legislators could sit at her kitchen table as she reviews cases at 2 a.m.

"It is very demoralizing to read some of the comments that some of you have made about judges not working hard enough," Hollander said.

The session, held at the start of the two-day conference, was the first formal meeting in many years between the entire judiciary and legislative leaders. It occurred on the heels of the 2001 General Assembly session - the second in as many years in which requests by the judiciary for more judges were denied.

Legislators said judges should do a better job of conveying their requests to local delegations and do a better job of managing caseloads and court assignments.

Judges said the need is acute in family divisions, where issues involving children take on urgency, unraveling family problems is time-consuming, and many litigants lack attorneys.

Differences between the two branches of state government were apparent in last year's General Assembly. Observers attributed the tenor of the dispute to personal differences between Miller and Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals, as well as legislative moves to wipe out several of the high court's rulings.

This year, the differences were toned down, but the legislature did not add the judicial slots that Bell had requested. Miller blamed fiscal pressures, in addition to saying he did not feel the judiciary had made its case.

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