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Official says court clerks were unaware of errors

March 25, 2002|BY KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Deputy clerks at Washington Circuit Court who have been issuing arrest warrants did not know they were doing so improperly, said Dennis Weaver, clerk of the Circuit Court.

The Maryland Attorney General's Office issued a report this week saying Circuit Court clerks in 10 Maryland counties, including Washington County, have been improperly issuing arrest warrants for 25 years.

The report's author, Assistant Attorney General Julia M. Andrew, said arrest warrants should be issued by judges, not by clerks.

The impact on cases involving the improperly issued warrants is not yet known.

Weaver said Friday that the procedure in Washington County has been for clerks to sign arrest warrants brought to them by the county state's attorney's office without a judge's involvement.

Andrew discovered the errant procedures after conducting an e-mail survey of the state's Circuit Court employees. Andrew said a 1997 rule required that judges weigh the evidence provided in arrest warrants.

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The 10 counties were ordered to comply with the rule in a memo Andrew issued on March 14.

Washington County State's Attorney Ken Long said he wasn't aware that the clerk's office had been issuing warrants improperly.

He said there shouldn't be much impact because most cases in the county start in District Court. In those cases, suspects would have already had a preliminary hearing before a judge.

Warrants from the state's attorney's office will now have to be approved by Circuit Court judges before they are issued, Weaver said.

The clerk's office previous arrest warrant procedure was in place when Weaver started work at the courthouse as a deputy clerk 15 years ago, he said.

Weaver estimated that about 100 warrants a year were signed by clerks over the past 15 years.

"It's a relatively low amount," he said.

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