Officials say fifth judge needed

November 19, 1997

Officials say fifth judge needed


Staff Writer

Washington County's war against drugs requires more cops and prosecutors, and especially another Circuit Court judge, officials said Tuesday.

The real bottleneck in the criminal justice system is in the courts, Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr. told the Washington County Commissioners, Hagerstown City Council and Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II during a joint meeting.

The county is ranked fourth in the state in terms of criminal filings in Circuit Court in the first two months of this fiscal year - July and August, Long said.


Prosecutors plea bargain between 95 percent and 98 percent of their cases because of the need to move cases or face a bigger backlog or lose the case because time deadlines aren't met, said officials with the state's attorney's office.

Long said if prosecutors were encouraged to try more cases, it would cause major aggravation for his office.

"Sometimes we have the thumb in the dike mentality," said Assistant State's Attorney Duane Gigeous, who works with the Washington County Narcotics Task Force.

Gigeous said Circuit Court judges hear criminal cases 14 days a month. It can take one day to try one case, he said.

Washington County has four Circuit Court judges, although the fourth one isn't expected to start hearing cases until January. Two retired judges will continue to hear cases on a part-time basis until the end of the year.

The state pays the judges' salaries, officials said.

The discussion on the need for another judge arose as elected officials and law enforcement leaders discussed how to continue fighting the area's illegal drug problem.

So far this year the narcotics task force alone has opened 242 drug cases, compared with 196 cases in all of 1996, said Sgt. Charles Summers, task force director.

Hagerstown patrol officers made 137 drug arrests as of Oct. 31, said Chief Dale Jones.

So far this year, the task force has seized drugs with the estimated street value of $367,570, Summers said.

"I guess we're the Hub City for drugs as much as anything else," Summers said in an interview after the meeting.

There are dealers and buyers from out-of-town doing business in the county, he said. The task force has been focusing on the North Jonathan Street area.

A drug dealer in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty three weeks ago to importing and distributing 80 to 100 kilos of cocaine - a significant portion of it in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va., Summers said. The cocaine was coming from Guyana, South America, he said.

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