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County voters will face three ballot questions

September 27, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Washington County voters will be asked on Nov. 2 to consider three statewide ballot questions:

o Should Maryland have a convention to change its constitution?

o Should Baltimore City's orphans' court judges be required to be lawyers?

o Should jury trials be allowed only in civil cases when the amount in question is more than $15,000, instead of more than $10,000, the current minimum?

Those items will be on general-election ballots along with numerous county, state and federal races.

Even though the orphans' court question pertains only to Baltimore City, it's up for statewide vote because it proposes a change to the state constitution, said Jared DeMarinis, the Maryland State Board of Elections' director of candidacy and campaign finance.

The jury trial question also proposes a constitutional amendment.

The constitutional convention question is one that, according to the state constitution, must be asked of voters every 20 years.

A constitutional convention question failed in 1990.

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Neither major political party is taking a position on the statewide ballot questions.

"Personally, I don't think there's a need" for a constitutional convention, said Susan Turnbull, the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party. "We're working pretty well in the state of Maryland."

"That's something for Maryland voters to decide," Ryan Mahoney, a spokesman for the Maryland Republican Party, said of a constitutional convention.

He added that it's not a bad idea to ask voters the question every 20 years.

Baltimore City and several counties throughout Maryland also will have local ballot questions for their voters. Washington County will not have local ballot questions.

The three statewide ballot questions are listed below, along with explanations and background from the state:

o Question 1, Constitutional Question -- Maryland Constitutional Convention

(Senate Bill 26, Chapter 9 of the 2010 Legislative Session)

Should a constitutional convention be called for the purpose of changing the Maryland Constitution?

Under Article XIV, Section 2 of the Maryland Constitution, the General Assembly is required to ask the voters every 20 years whether a constitutional convention should be called for the purpose of altering the Maryland Constitution.

o Question 2, Constitutional Amendment -- Trial by Jury

(Senate Bill 119, Chapter 480 of the 2010 Legislative Session)

Authorizing the enactment of legislation to limit the right to a jury trial in a civil proceeding to those proceedings in which the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000.

(Amending Maryland Declaration of Rights -- Articles 5(a) and 23)

Under Articles 5 and 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, a party in a civil proceeding has a right to a jury trial where the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000. In cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed this threshold amount, a judge, rather than a jury, determines the verdict. The constitutional amendment would increase the amount-in-controversy limitation by providing that a party may not demand a jury trial in a civil proceeding unless the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000, excluding attorney's fees if attorney's fees are recoverable in the proceeding.

o Question 3, Constitutional Amendment -- Qualifications for Baltimore City Orphans' Court Judges

(House Bill 417, Chapter 481 of the 2010 Legislative Session)

Requires judges of the Orphans' Court in Baltimore City to be members in good standing of the Maryland Bar who are admitted to practice law in Maryland.

(Amending Article IV, Section 40 of the Maryland Constitution)

Under the Maryland Constitution, the voters of each county and Baltimore City elect three judges to the Orphans' Court of their respective jurisdictions, with the exception of Montgomery and Harford counties, where circuit court judges sit as the Orphans' Court. The judges must be citizens of the state and residents, for the preceding 12 months, in the city or county in which they are elected. The constitutional amendment would add an additional eligibility requirement for judges of the Orphans' Court in Baltimore City, requiring them to be members in good standing of the Maryland Bar who are admitted to practice law in Maryland.

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