District court judges unhappy with potential weekend work

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By Daniel Menefee

UPDATE: The Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday morning to the public defender legislation in a voice vote, sending it to final passage.

A gavel.A Senate vote on an emergency bill to amend the Maryland Public Defender Act was postponed for a second day Monday so lawmakers could hear from judges unhappy with a provision to open courts on weekends for bail hearings.

“The district court judges are complaining they will have to come in on weekends,” said Sen. Brian Frosh, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He said that judges were one of the few professions that didn’t have to work on weekends.

“For most judges, we’re talking about a couple of weekends a year.”

CORRECTION: That  state has until March 5 March 16  to comply with a January appeals court ruling that mandates  indigent defendants have counsel in the initial appearance before a district court commissioner. Or lawmakers must eliminate the initial right to counsel in the current law and require defendants appear before a district court judge within 24 to 72 hours.

Maryland is the only state in the country that uses a court commissioner for the initial bail review, according to Frosh.

If the law is unchanged, costs to implement the Appeals Court ruling would reach $25 million annually to staff the public defender’s office.

Frosh’s committee has held numerous work sessions to iron out ways to reduce costs and meet 6th Amendment constitutional mandates for a speedy trial and assistance of counsel.

One provision of the bill expands police authority to issue citations for offenses that carry a sentence of 90-days or less — and would eliminate more than 70,000 commissioner hearings each year.