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Judges' 'can-do' attitude gets the job done

January 26, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

A "can-do" attitude coupled with careful organization and no aversion to hard work have kept the Washington County Circuit Court on top of an ever-increasing number of caseloads.

Thus, the need for two new judges might not be as acute as the figures seem to indicate, say some local attorneys and judges.

"We've done a good job scheduling cases here," said Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long.

Long credited the judges for their cooperation when there is an overflow of cases.

Often, 20 or more criminal cases are scheduled for one judge in one courtroom on a particular day, Long said. If one defendant requests a jury trial, the remaining 19 cases are in jeopardy of not being heard.

But Long said another judge frequently offers to take some or all of the nonjury cases in another courtroom that same day.

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An assistant state's attorney, clerk and court reporter are called in and, often within 15 minutes, cases are being heard.

When this is done, witnesses, defendants, lawyers and victims don't have to accommodate another trial date, Long said.

And the "180-day rule" isn't jeopardized.

Under Maryland law guaranteeing speedy trials, all criminal defendants must have a trial date set within 180 days after their first appearance or entrance of appearance of an attorney on their behalf, according to Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright.

Once the time limit has passed, charges could be dismissed unless a judge finds good cause to extend the 180-day limit, Wright said.

As a trial attorney and former assistant state's attorney, Tom DiGirolamo said he feels things run pretty well here in criminal cases.

"And with civil cases, it's even better," DiGirolamo said. "Once you get a trial date, you usually get a trial on that day - there are few continuances here."

Washington County Circuit Judge Kennedy Boone said he was surprised by the extent of the statistics showing the need for two new judges here.

"I agree with Judge Wright on his time frame, because of the space situation," Boone said. 

There is no space left in the main courthouse building for another judge's chambers, office space, courtroom or jury room.

But Boone said he feels by 2002 Washington County probably will have a fifth Circuit judge.

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