MACo: Bring Counties to the Table On Bail Funding

In the aftermath of the DeWolfe v. Richmond decisions and subsequent failed attempts during the 2014 General Assembly session to institute significant bail reform, MACo is reaching out to the Maryland Judiciary to ensure that counties are engaged and not overlooked as the Judiciary moves forward to implement the required changes to bail funding and review process.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the General Assembly addressed the 2014 session’s much-watched issue of bail reform by incorporating budget language to partially fund panel attorneys rather than passing more comprehensive reform legislation. Counties are expected to pay the difference. Most of the implementation decisions, which have been left in the hands of the courts, could impose significant challenges and costs on county governments. Accordingly MACo sent a letter to Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland Ben C. Clyburn, to urge coordination with county governments and county-funded agencies.

With the passage of the State’s FY 2015 budget and the accompanying reconciliation bill (SB 172), the State has apparently provided a limited source of funds ($10 million for FY 2015) to implement the State’s reaction to Richmond v. DeWolfe. Section 17 of  SB 172 further specifies that:

…the costs of compensating the attorneys beyond the amount restricted for that purpose in the State budget shall be billed by the appointing authority to the county in which the representation is provided and shall be paid by that county.

This funding arrangement is unprecedented for both the Judiciary and the county governments, and we hope that this arrangement may be implemented in the least disruptive fashion possible. Counties stand ready to offer guidance on how to best accomplish this.

County governments are concerned with the decision-making process leaving as yet unspecified State actors mandating commitments of county staff and funds with seemingly no local input. Both the approval process and the timing of this have yet to be fully determined, but both elements pose potentially great concern for county governments.

MACo pledges its assistance to the judiciary as it develops the required rules and policies to help ensure that county voices are heard and that the most just and effective system is implemented.

For more information, read the letter to the Chief Judge and previous coverage on Conduit Street.