The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Administration was briefed by representatives from the District Courts of Maryland, Baltimore County State’s Attorney office and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender on the status of DeWolfe v. Richmond implementation. This court ruling established the right under the Maryland Constitution for an attorney at the initial appearance before a District Court Commissioner.
The subcommittee received a history of the ruling and the legislative actions that eventually led to $10 million of the District Court’s FY 15 budget earmarked to hire attorneys to represent individuals at the hearings. The budget language also stated that costs exceeding $10 million would have to be covered by the counties. The District Court’s Appointed Attorneys Program was developed as a result of this requirement. According to Chief Judge of the District Courts, John Morrisey, the District Court is projecting to spend $8.5 to $8.7 million of the earmark on the program by the end of the fiscal year.
A key exchange on the future status of the program came when the subcommittee chair, Delegate Haynes, asked whether the $10 million is sufficient to continue the system as is. Morrisey explained that the earmark is strictly restricted to pay for attorneys and is not allowed to be used for training, supervision or overall program management. Staff had to be reassigned from other positions in the court to handle program management, scheduling and financing. The language also requires any money not spent, potential $1.3-1.5 million in FY 15, to revert to the general fund. Morrisey noted that if the program were to be institutionalized in the judiciary he would love for those funds to be used to pay for dedicated staff and supervision. Additional staff would need to be hired to provide training and supervision.
- John Morrisey, Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland
- Paul DeWolfe, Public Defender
- Scott Shellenberger, State’s Attorney for Baltimore County