Conference Session Explores District Courts and Bail Reform

In the wake of the Maryland Court of Appeals’ DeWolfe v. Richmond decision establishing the right to indigent representation at preliminary bail hearings much is still in play as the state works to comply with the ruling and looks to reforming the pretrial process in the future. In a roundtable discussion the panelists, who also serve together on the Governor’s Commission to Reform the Pretrial System, discussed the impact of the Richmond decisions, stop-gap funding for the appointed attorney program to temporarily comply with the decision, the Governor’s Commission and the future of potential reform.

Chief Judge John Morrissey for the District Court of Maryland provided an overview of Maryland’s commissioner system as well as an update on the appointed attorney program which went live July 1 of this year. It was noted that In sharing initial figures from the first month of the appointed attorney program, the Chief Judge stressed that invoices are still being processed and that costs do not include reimbursement for mileage and tolls, so the estimated costs for July will likely rise. He also expects to see an increase in hearings in August and September, but a decrease in the winter months. Should the Judiciary’s projections run true, costs for the program will stay within the $10 million sparing counties from bearing the remaining cost burden. In the meantime, MACo is working with the Judiciary to help counties prepare in the event the projections fall short.

Chief Judge John Morrisey, Capt. Michael Merican, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, Honorable Kathleen Dumais, Maryland House of Delegates
Chief Judge John Morrisey, Capt. Michael Merican, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, Honorable Kathleen Dumais, Maryland House of Delegates

Much of the remaining discussion focused on the big picture debate of pretrial reform. As State’s Attorney for Baltimore County Scott Shellenberger framed it: “…should the focus be on the Richmond decision or on the system as a whole?” Mr. Shellenberger provided a history of the Richmond decision and the subsequent legislative response. Delegate Kathleen Dumais, who serves as Vice-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, recapped the most recent legislative session and the issues that plagued proposed reform bills including whether too much focus was put on what to do about the Richmond rather than what the ideal criminal justice system in Maryland should look like.

Capt. Michael Merican, Warden/Commander for the  Detention Center in St. Mary’s County, shared data on problems within the current system including racial and financial disparities in addition to the effects that even short periods of pretrial detainment have on destabilizing the employment, education and families of low-risk offenders while increasing recidivism. The panelists rounded out the session with a discussion on potential solutions to the problems within the system with a focus on pretrial risk assessment tools and the work of Governor’s Commission to Reform the Pretrial System charged with exploring such a tool’s viability in Maryland.