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County could get fifth Circuit judge

April 08, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - The wheels of government sometimes turn excruciatingly slowly, particularly for a traditionally rural county bowing under the weight of increasing needs for services, but with no added resources.

In Washington County's Circuit Court, however, help is on the way.

It's taken a decade, but the county likely will get a fifth Circuit Court judge this year. Bills to provide new Circuit judges in Washington County and six other jurisdictions are approaching final passage in both houses of the General Assembly.

It's been a long quest - according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, Washington County's caseload has justified another Circuit judge since 1994.

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In its latest analysis of judgeship needs, filed in November, the office found that Washington County had recorded "a steady increase in filing activity over the last three years," with family case filings, including juvenile cases, rising 7.1 percent since fiscal year 2002. Delinquency filings rose 36 percent, and child welfare cases, which include abuse and neglect, rose by about 135 percent.

The Circuit Court also saw double digit increases in the number of tort filings at 14.5 percent, indictment and information filings at 13.2 percent, and criminal appeals at 10.4 percent.

The number of hearings rose 23 percent, from 6,996 in fiscal year 2002 to 8,606 in fiscal year 2004.

Washington County is one of three jurisdictions that comprise the Fourth Judicial Circuit. Chief Judge Frederick C. Wright III wrote to State Court Administrator Frank Broccolina last fall, saying that the need for another judge had become "acute."

While the Department of Legislative Services warned in its analysis of the bills that the additional judges would increase Circuit Court expenses "perhaps significantly" in the seven jurisdictions included, Wright noted in his letter to Broccolina that the county had included an additional courtroom and related offices in its $4.2 million renovation at the courthouse in anticipation of the added judge.

Chief Judge Robert Bell asked for the new Circuit Court judges as well as six new District Court judges this year. The cost to the state budget is projected at nearly $2.7 million for fiscal year 2006, allowing for a 90-day start-up delay from the legislation's July 1 effective date.

The other jurisdictions set to receive new Circuit judges are Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Worcester counties and the City of Baltimore.

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