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Bill would reduce inmates' frivolous lawsuits

January 12, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Maryland prison inmates are filing too many frivolous lawsuits, which strain both the legal system and taxpayers' wallets, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Munson said that's why he filed a bill in the state Senate Thursday aimed at cutting back on the number of lawsuits filed by inmates, who often don't have to pay court costs.

"So many of the suits that inmates do are just totally frivolous, and the taxpayer has got to pick up the cost of every one of them," he said.

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His bill would allow a judge to dismiss a suit if the judge determines it is "frivolous or malicious" or if an inmate makes false statements to the court.

An inmate's "good time" in prison also could be revoked for filing a frivolous lawsuit or making a false statement, under the legislation.

Munson said legal issues could cause some problems in getting approval for the bill (S.B. 121), but he added that the legislation is modeled after an existing Delaware law.

Attempts to contact officials with the American Civil Liberties Union for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Collecting court fees from inmates is an ongoing problem, especially in Washington County with its large state prison complex south of Hagerstown, said county Circuit Court officials.

Inmates can delay paying the $80 civil suit filing fee until the end of a case if a judge rules they are too poor to pay. But rarely is that money ever collected by the court, given the inmates' financial situation, said Circuit Court Clerk Dennis Weaver.

"There's no point in trying to collect," Weaver said.

Munson's bill would still allow fees to be waived for poor inmates and it would establish a payment plan for inmates with "minimal income." But he said it will guarantee that those who do have the money will have to pay the fees.

And maybe they'll think twice before filing their next lawsuit, he said.

"If they have to choose between sneakers and lawsuits, they'll probably choose sneakers, or cigarettes," Munson said.

For more information about this bill or other legislative topics you can access the Maryland General Assembly World Wide Web site at http://mlis.state.md.us.

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