Source:  Baltimore Sun Sunspot

                Real breakthrough or just false hopes?
                    Central Booking: Tentative agreement on full-time court at lockup
                    comes none too soon.

                    LET'S HOPE that yesterday's deal for a full-time court at Baltimore's
                    Central Booking and Intake Center is a real reform and not just a
                    negotiating ploy. Too much time has already been wasted on
                    bureaucratic wrangling in this city where slayings are rampant and the
                    criminal-justice system allows many murderers to go unpunished.

                    "We are finally moving forward," Mayor Martin O'Malley said of
                    Chief District Judge Martha F. Rasin's "conceptual" willingness to
                    place a judge at the intake center five days a week. In return, the
                    General Assembly agreed to free embargoed court funding.

                    Reaching this point took several years. This progress comes none too
                    soon. Just one year after Baltimore's malfunctioning courts and lethal
                    violence persuaded criminal-justice agencies to seek joint solutions,
                    their cooperation recently began to unravel.

                    The State's Attorney's Office stopped participating in bail reviews and
                    the public defender scaled back its representation of defendants.
                    Worsening the situation was the end this week of a private pilot
                    program that saved taxpayers millions of dollars by helping arrestees
                    avoid unnecessary pretrial incarceration.

                    These truly alarming developments seemed to have their inspiration in
                    Judge Rasin's fight with Mayor O'Malley over the Central Booking
                    court. The judiciary's obstructionism emboldened other agencies to
                    start backpedaling in hopes of winning higher budget and staff

                    This dangerous dissension now can be halted -- if the Central Booking
                    deal sticks.

                    The devil is in the details. And the important thing is not whether the
                    court operates five or seven days. The main issue is what the Central
                    Booking judge should do.

                    Mr. O'Malley wants 50 percent of minor offenses disposed within the
                    first 24 hours of arrest -- before these unimportant cases clog the
                    pretrial cells and the court system. This goal can be achieved only if
                    the Central Booking judge hears a full docket.

                    When Judge Rasin initially expressed her willingness to post a judge
                    five days a week, she seemed to want the judge to hear only bail
                    reviews and certain pleas. Such a narrow scope clearly would not
                    produce the kinds of radical results the mayor wants.

                    Judge Rasin has taken some heavy hits in recent weeks for her
                    obstructionism. Her credibility with the public and the General
                    Assembly depends on the speed and clarity of the final
                    accommodation she negotiates.

                   Originally published on Mar 2 2000