Family law division goal of circuit judge

February 01, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

Family law division goal of circuit judge

Fred Wright's eye is fixed firmly on the future of the Washington County Circuit Court.

Now up to full strength with four full-time judges and a family law master, Wright, as the administrative judge of the Fourth Circuit, said he doesn't believe a fifth judge is necessary.

"What I would like to see is a family law division of the Washington County Circuit Court, possibly set up in the first floor of the old District Court building," Wright said.

That four-story building at 33-35 W. Washington St., will be vacated when a proposed new District Court is built just a block away.


That first floor has two courtrooms and a large office area for support staff, perfect for the work of that growing division, Wright said.

But in the meantime, Wright said he's proud of the amount of work that is being done by the four sitting Circuit Court judges - Donald Beachley, Kennedy Boone, John H. McDowell and himself - and the family law master, Daniel Dwyer.

Beachley was sworn in on Dec. 29 to fill a vacancy on the bench.

And if the 1998 dockets are any indication, that work load is bound to increase, Wright said.

"We have seven multi-day criminal trials scheduled between now and May," Wright said.

And 10 big civil cases - nine of which are complicated medical malpractice lawsuits - also are on the 1998 court calendar.

That slows down the entire process, Wright said.

"On an average criminal day, we schedule around 15 cases," Wright said. If one case runs three days, that preempts 44 other cases.

Starting the first of this year, Wright has given the Washington County State's Attorney's office another criminal day each week. Now there are criminal cases scheduled in at least one circuit courtroom Monday through Thursday.

"I've been able to make two judges available on some criminal days and on two Tuesdays a month," Wright said.

That ability to adjust to handle the bumps along the way has kept Washington County Circuit Courts among the most efficient in the state.

Washington County ranks 10th in the state for volume of workload, a ranking that's been creeping up steadily.

"We are ranked as most efficient, save for the Eastern Shore counties that have fewer cases," Wright said.

A 20 percent increase in crime in Washington County has translated into a 40 percent increase in criminal cases filed, Wright said.

"I'm already hearing a prediction of more drug distribution trials this year," Wright said.

Because of all these factors, Wright predicts the money the county spends on juries will soar - from about $70,000 a year to more than $100,000 in 1998.

Wright has had lots of practice trying to juggle people, schedules and courtrooms, and he still hears many criminal, civil and juvenile cases.

Wright, 59, is in his 27th year on the bench, having been re-elected to his second 15-year term in 1996.

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