Judiciary Proposes Plan to Reduce State and County Bail Review Costs

As previously reported on Conduit Street, a legislative task force has offered recommendations on reforming Maryland’s bail system to comply with a 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals decision mandating the use of public defenders for both initial bail hearings and bail reviews. As a result of the Court’s decision, both the State and county governments are facing significant compliance costs ranging in the tens of millions of dollars.  A January 6 Baltimore Sun article reported that the Maryland Judiciary has now offered its own recommendations that would allegedly reduce State costs by more than $20 million.

According to the article, a Judiciary task force, appointed by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, urged the General Assembly to adopt a process of a single hearing bail review in front of a judge. This would replace the current two-step process in which an initial hearing is held before a court commissioner followed by a later hearing in front of a judge. Commissioners would still perform initial hearings, but only on weekends and holidays. At those hearings, defendants would still have the court ordered legal representation and would be entitled to see a judge if not freed by the commissioner.

[Maryland District Court Chief Judge Ben] Clyburn said the Judiciary’s proposal would cost under $10 million, including $3.6 million to employ 12 more judges statewide and $1.9 million for the extensive video-conferencing technology the plan would require. He said the need to hire new public defenders would be dramatically reduced and that there would be less need to transport prisoners from jails to court.

The Judiciary’s recommendations differ considerably from those proposed by a legislative task force that examined how the reviewed options within the current bail review system to comply with the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the right of counsel at bail hearings is a right guaranteed by the Declaration of Rights under the Maryland Constitution.

The article also noted that although the Judiciary’s proposal was criticized by the plaintiff in the original Court of Appeals case, members of the General Assembly expressed interest.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, had not seen the report but said the price tag would be “attractive” to lawmakers who have been struggling to find a way to comply with 2012’s DeWolfe vs. Richmond decision without spending tens of millions more each year.

“It would certainly be worth considering,” said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat. “It ought to be a judicial determination when somebody’s liberty is at stake.”

Other Conduit Street coverage:

State Commission Makes Recommendations on Baltimore City Jail, Correctional Officer Discipline

MD High Court: Lawyer at Bail Hearing Must Be Provided

Daunting County Costs Forecasted From Bail Hearing Decision