Holidays don't mean break for all in courts

Slower pace allows judges chance to get things done

December 23, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Circuit Court's normally heavy dockets that deal with hundreds of violent crimes each day traditionally slow during the holiday season because many courthouse employees take vacation. The respite from the crush of cases and the press of trials allows judges to take care of matters often ignored during busier times.

Judge John M. Glynn handled several dozen defendants yesterday who had asked for misdemeanor jury trials. He instructed those who were without lawyers to seek representation, and he tried to work out plea arrangements to settle as many cases as possible. The judge also took care of several so-called housekeeping matters.

"Who in here does not have an attorney?" Glynn asked a packed courtroom.

Several people who had been waiting for hours stood and raised their hands.

One man, James Cofield, explained to the judge that there had been a mix-up in his case resulting in a warrant being issued for his arrest. He held a pink summons in his hand.

"I was arrested on this charge three years ago. I did the time and everything," said Cofield, 40, who works in a delivery service warehouse. "I think y'all made a mistake."

Glynn responded jokingly, "I'm shocked."

Cofield had his problem resolved yesterday and Glynn, who called the warehouse worker a "victim of the system," acknowledged the case underscored problems in the court system.

"There's a lot of potential for problems in a system like this," Glynn said. "The connectivity between the courts, parole, the jail, the state's attorney and the public defender is not particularly good. It's all done on paper rather than computer. The system is more like a medieval scribe than Bill Gates."

To get the case fixed, Cofield was told to go to Glynn's chambers, where the judge's staff investigated the problem.

"I just want this resolved so I can go back to work," he said.

After about 15 minutes, it was learned that Cofield had been released in November 2001 after serving a 30-day sentence for possession of heroin. But a paperwork foul-up resulted in a warrant being issued for Cofield's arrest in the same month he completed his sentence.

Two months ago, Cofield was arrested for an unrelated loitering charge and police discovered he had an open warrant - the same one apparently issued in 2001 in error. He spent five days in jail because of the warrant.

"That warrant was on me for two years?" he said in disbelief.

Cofield returned to the courtroom to have his case resolved on the record.

"You already served your sentence?" asked Glynn.

"Yes," Cofield replied.

"Thank you. Goodbye," the judge said.

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