ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Appeals Court Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera described the state’s judicial system as “doing well,” and highlighted drug courts, embracing technology and helping children and the elderly as priorities.
Barbera did not request any additional funding from the legislature during her half-hour State of the Judiciary address Wednesday, but instead gave an overview of the courts’ plans to become more efficient and serve more people.
One way to do that is investing in drug courts, she said.
“According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, taxpayers save $3.36 for every dollar invested in drug courts nationwide,” Barbera said.
According to the Maryland courts website, a drug court differs from a traditional court in that they follow the defendant through drug rehabilitation and are not pushing for “legal justice,” but rather to “restore (the) defendant as a productive, non-criminal member of society.” This is far more effective, Barbera said.
The courts have expanded their “problem-solving courts” to include three mental health courts, two re-entry courts, a veteran’s court pilot program, and nine truancy-reduction courts, she said.
Senator James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said when the session is out, he visits the drug courts and has seen how important they are firsthand.
“(The drug courts) are really impressive. … You have social workers, the prosecution, the defense, public defenders, all coming together and trying to get kids out of addiction and it was good to hear the chief judge talk about that,” Brochin said.
Barbera also emphasized the importance of courts digitizing to keep up with Marylanders who love their smartphones and tablets, calling the existing paper-based systems “cumbersome.”
She talked about the Maryland Electronic Courts System which will replace and unify 11 different computer systems used across the state, and will be more cost-effective and improve efficiency, she said.
Barbera introduced self-help centers, which assist people by translating forms, giving them videos and brochures on the court system and help with forms and offering people live walk-in help around the state. Far too many people come to court without a lawyer and these self-help centers may help them defend themselves, Barbera said.
Her plans for the court also included helping the vulnerable, namely children and the elderly, navigate the court system safely. Children were at particular risk, she said.
“Every day, in Maryland, young children — some no more than a few days old — enter the court system,” Barbera said. “As the result of abuse or neglect at the hands of an adult, these children may well have to spend time, often years, in a foster care placement. In later years, those same children are at a higher risk of truancy, drug or alcohol addiction, and mental health issues.”
Barbera’s speech served as an introduction between the legislative and judicial branches, Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, said.
“‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re shooting for and don’t be surprised. We may come and ask for help from the Maryland General Assembly in order to fund and in order to do the things we have to do.’ I think she left that impression on me,” Ramirez said.
The State of the Judiciary — the first of its kind in 10 years — is not mandated like the State of the State, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, said.
“Somebody started it 30, 40 years ago just because early morning, or rather early session, somebody wanted something to do. If (they) have an emergency, we’re going to let them come anytime they want.”