ANNAPOLIS – Tired of piecemeal solutions for a multitude of problems in the judiciary, the House of Delegates wants a new panel to offer suggestions on how to revamp Maryland’s courts.
“The whole system needs studying,” said Judge Alfred T. Truitt Jr. of Anne Arundel County, chairman of the state’s Conference of Circuit Court Judges.
Jury selection, increased costs, lagging technology and overwhelming caseloads are plaguing Maryland’s courts at all levels, officials say.
“No one is addressing the problems in a coordinated way,” Del. Mary Louise Preis, D-Harford, the bill’s main sponsor, told the House Judicial Proceedings Committee in February. “It’s frustrating … seeing a bill-by-bill analysis.”
Bills that address multiple issues are prohibited in the General Assembly. As a result, dozens of bills dealing with specific problems are brought before the General Assembly each year on behalf of judges, attorneys, clerks and citizens.
But the courts are in need of a sweeping overhaul that specific legislation can’t address, lawmakers say.
Preis’s measure would tap 29 officials from all three branches of government and from the Maryland State Bar Association to study the court system and offer solutions.
The future looks bright for the measure. The House passed the bill 135-0 on March 19. With support coming from all branches of government, passage is expected in the Senate. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony Wednesday.
“This has been the [Maryland Bar Association’s] chief legislative priority this year,” said Dennis Belman, the association’s president who testified in support of the bill Wednesday.
In a show of support, Gov. Parris N. Glendening allocated $50,000 in the 1996 supplemental budget for the study.
Under the proposed law, recommendations are required by the end of 1996.
“That means we won’t have endless debate,” Belman said.
Preis said it’s critical that concrete suggestions are made before the next election, when state politics often are shaken up.
“The window of opportunity is now,” Preis said. “From a governmental perspective, the time is short.”