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New judge unlikely in county anytime soon, official says

October 27, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

The administrative judge at Washington County Circuit Court asked local state delegates Thursday to support a request to seat a fifth judge by June 2005.

Maryland Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who would make that request in the coming General Assembly session, has no plans to ask for money to hire more judges in Washington County, or anywhere else in the state, State Court Administrator Frank Broccolina said.

Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright said the result of the large caseload in Washington County - the sixth largest in the state - is that too many cases are going beyond set guidelines for completion.

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"Justice delayed is justice denied, and we're always looking at that concept," Wright said in a telephone interview Thursday.

The county government plans to outfit the circuit court building on West Washington Street with chambers and a courtroom to make room for a fifth judge. The earliest a judge would be able to fill the new space would be April 2005, Wright said.

Documents provided by Wright to Dels. LeRoy E. Myers, Christopher B. Shank and Robert A. McKee indicated his court has seen an increase of about 1,500 filings per year over the past five years. The court has four judges and a special master who hears certain family cases.

Broccolina said Washington County's needs are well known, but budget constraints will preclude requests for new judges this year.

Broccolina said there is a lengthy review process for the Maryland Judiciary to certify the need for another judge, and Washington County has met that need for some time.

He said because Washington County has been in need for so long, it could get priority when there is enough money to begin seating new judges.

Delegates contacted Thursday said they agreed the local circuit court was in need of a new judge after taking a tour of the court and meeting with Wright.

"It's very apparent that we do need an extra judge," said Myers, R-Washington. "The last thing we want is for someone to walk free who's definitely guilty."

He said that could happen if cases move too quickly.

"We should be entitled to the same level of service that other jurisdictions have," said Shank, R-Washington.

Some courts have smaller caseloads but more judges than Washington County, he said.

Both Myers and Shank said they would wait until after they had spoken with Bell and others to decide whether to write legislation beyond the judiciary's budget request in the spring.

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