Source:  Baltimore Sun Sunspot

             Mayor urged to temper attacks
                    O'Malley, judges meet about court reforms, but rift remains wide

                    By Caitlin Francke
                          Sun Staff

                    Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's blistering attacks on state judges
                    have fractured a relationship that legal experts -- and the judges --
                    say is vital to reform of city courts.

                    O'Malley appeared to take steps yesterday toward repairing the ties
                    by meeting with Maryland's two top judges for 2 1/2 hours, but the
                    two sides appeared to remain far apart.

                    Legal experts, the judges and even one of O'Malley's key legislative
                    allies say if the mayor wants reform, he'll have to substitute
                    cooperation for confrontation.

                    "He has demonstrated that he is a man of action, which is certainly
                    something the city of Baltimore desperately needs in its mayor, but in
                    order for action to be effective, it must be tempered with judgment
                    and, in many instances, diplomacy," said John H. Lewin Jr.,
                    coordinator of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which has
                    been steering changes in the city court system for a year. "It doesn't
                    help the process to throw a hand grenade in the middle of it."

                    But O'Malley remains convinced that his proposal for disposing of
                    50 percent of cases within 24 hours of arrest will work and that the
                    judges are holding it up.

                    "I would hope that will be something that the rest of us will call
                    progress soon," O'Malley said. "They are still evaluating not only the
                    concept, but the logistics to make the concept a reality. The rest of
                    us are at a point where we are trying to implement the operational
                    changes and make this concept a reality."

                    The fight began Feb. 11 when O'Malley called the
                    courts"dysfunctional" before state legislators. After the judges told
                    the legislators that they had made many improvements to the
                    beleaguered system, which has been under attack for a year,
                    O'Malley said, "I'd like to throw up."

                    The fight intensified Wednesday when Chief Judge of the District
                    Court Martha F. Rasin sent O'Malley a letter expressing outrage that
                    he painted her as uncooperative yet had not given her specifics of his
                    proposal -- which would require her judges to preside over cases at
                    the city jail at least five days a week. In an interview, she termed his
                    testimony in Annapolis a "tantrum." O'Malley responded by calling
                    her an "obstructionist."

                    O'Malley's comments in Annapolis surprised and shocked the
                    judiciary, leaving members feeling ambushed. Days before, O'Malley
                    had met with them and members of the coordinating council to
                    present his proposal. At that meeting, he seemed to be fostering a
                    sense of cooperation with all of the city's justice agencies,
                    participants said.

                    "Two days later he is a different mayor," said Lewin. "I think [the
                    judges] are confused, and I'm confused. On the one hand, we saw a
                    guy who said 'I want to work with you,' and then for some reason,
                    he goes over the top on the criticism."

                    Douglas Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland law
                    school, said O'Malley's rhetoric is making matters worse.

                    "The only way to get reform is cooperation and mutual respect, not
                    bullying and grandstanding," Colbert said. "I think the situation is
                    bound to get worse, and that can only bode ill for criminal justice
                    reform, which is badly needed."

                    If O'Malley had hoped to win over legislators with his approach two
                    weeks ago, he failed. Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, a powerful
                    committee chairman and O'Malley campaign supporter, said this
                    week that the mayor had not put forward a specific plan to
                    accomplish his reform goals.

                    Yesterday, neither Rasin nor Maryland's chief judge of the Court of
                    Appeals, Robert M. Bell, would discuss the meeting in the city
                    courthouse, deferring to a spokeswoman. "We were glad to have a
                    meeting," said Sally W. Rankin, quoting the judges. "It was a good
                    meeting. And I think we've made some progress."

                    O'Malley asked to meet with the judges after Rasin sent him the
                    letter. But before he sat down with the judges, he reiterated his
                    stance that they were the only people holding up his plan.

                    "I challenge, in a very head-on way, the leaders of our judiciary at all
                    levels to rise to the occasion, the opportunity, and to the clear
                    instructions of the people of this city, that we are not willing, for the
                    sake of business as usual and preserving their bridge over the River
                    Kwai, to continue burying our sons in the number that we have been
                    burying them for the last 10 or 12 years," O'Malley said.

                    He added: "What the people of Baltimore elected was a mayor who
                    wasn't going to play the old game and politely allow the dysfunction
                    to continue. I am not going to politely allow the dysfunction to

                    It's that attitude that rankles the judges, smarting over O'Malley's
                    Annapolis comments. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and
                    other members of the criminal justice system have been working on
                    reforms for a year.

                    "We certainly didn't expect to be slammed at the hearing the way we
                    were," said Judge Keith E. Mathews, chief of the city's District

                    Ellen M. Heller, Baltimore's administrative judge for the Circuit
                    Court, said the judges and O'Malley have a common goal. "[The
                    judges] were certainly not prepared to hear that, what did he say?
                    He wanted to throw up. We all live in Baltimore City. We all care
                    about Baltimore City."

                    Both judges said the damage was not irreparable. They said they had
                    high hopes when O'Malley came into office and want to maintain a
                    working relationship.

                    "I do hope that in the next few days we see this whole heightened
                    rhetoric dissipated and that we once again go back to constructively
                    working together," Heller said. "We're still looking forward to
                    opening that new chapter."

                    Originally published on Feb 25 2000