State Leaders Grapple With State and Local Costs of Bail Representation Mandate

A December 15 Washington Post article discusses the challenges facing Governor Martin O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch in complying with a requirement to provide representation to indigent individuals during the bail review process.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that the right of counsel at bail hearings is a right guaranteed by the Declaration of Rights under the Maryland Constitution.  This ruling has potentially serious budgetary implications for both the state (who funds the Office of the Public Defender) but also for county governments, who support the budgets of the State’s Attorneys and local correctional centers.  The Post article notes that the bail representation challenge was brought up at the MACo 2013 December Winter Conference:

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called the September ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals “nonsense” during an appearance Friday before a conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Cambridge, Md.

“I’m a lawyer. I don’t understand it. This makes no sense whatsoever,” Miller told the group of county leaders. “We’ve got to find lawyers for people who are arrested and who have not yet even been brought to court.”  …

At the conference in Cambridge, Jeanne Hitchcock, O’Malley’s top legislative aide, said she expects robust debate in the upcoming session.

“I mean, that has an incredible fiscal impact in the state, and I don’t know how we’re going to wind up getting out of that — if at all — but I do know this: that there probably has to be some sort of legislative relief,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock and Miller appeared as part of the same panel that offered a preview of the legislative session. The panel also included Busch and House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel).

In a brief interview after the panel discussion, Busch said he shares some of Miller’s concerns about the court ruling.

The bail representation issue was also discussed on a December 13 segment of the Marc Steiner show on WEAA 88.9 FM.