Source:  Baltimore Sun Sunspot

                    Judges' court deal is test of credibility
                    Central Booking: Chief judges return to playing games after General
                    Assembly unfreezes funds.

                    ASTRANGE thing happened in Annapolis last week: Two powerful
                    budget leaders told the General Assembly that embargoed funds
                    should be released because the judiciary had agreed to post a judge
                    five days a week at Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center.

                    The next day, after $8.9 million had been unfrozen, Court of Appeals
                    Chief Judge Robert M. Bellcorrected Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and
                    Del. Howard P. Rawlings. He thanked them for the money but told
                    them there was no deal.

                    Instead, he said the judiciary had only agreed to take Mayor Martin
                    O'Malley's plan for a full-time court "to the interested parties" for
                    further discussion.

                    Some angry legislative leaders feel double-crossed. (They should.)
                    Others take a calmer view. But Judge Bell's letter has served as a
                    chilly reminder to legislators that the judiciary's cynical obstructionism
                    plays a large part in Baltimore's inability to stem the homicide rate
                    and overhaul malfunctioning criminal-justice processes.

                    Another round will be played out Wednesday, when the Criminal
                    Justice Coordinating Council convenes to consider Mayor
                    O'Malley's plan to have 50 percent of minor offenses disposed within
                    the first 24 hours of arrest.

                    Key to the mayor's plan is placing a full-time judge at Central
                    booking to hear a comprehensive docket of cases.

                    In contrast, Chief District Judge Martha F. Rasin has expressed her
                    willingness to have a new judge deal only with bail reviews and
                    certain pleas. Such a narrow scope would not produce the radical
                    improvements the mayor wants.

                    Over the past year, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has
                    done invaluable work to straighten out the bureaucratic mess in the

                    In the end, though, it is a voluntary consultative body that lacks any
                    legal standing. The council can make recommendations, but
                    resolution of the Central Booking court dispute must come from the

                    The bottom line is simple: A full-time courtroom can be made
                    operational at Central Booking on a few days' notice, if Judges Rasin
                    and Bell so order. But if they are allowed to continue dragging their
                    feet, this protracted dispute will go on and on, while Baltimore

                    Their willful intransigence must end.

                    Originally published on Mar 6 2000