BY CHIEF JUDGE ROBERT M. BELL
BEFORE THE MARYLAND GENERAL ASSEMBLY
JANUARY 26, 2000
Governor Glendening, Lieutenant Governor Townsend, President Miller, Speaker Taylor, Ladies and Gentlemen of the 2000 General Assembly, Attorney General Curran, distinguished guests, my fellow Marylanders all.
One year ago today, I reported that "Maryland's Judiciary is poised,and meet the challenges of, the 21st Century." Today, in this, the first State of the Judiciary Address of Y2K, I am pleased to report that Maryland's Judiciary has entered the 21st Century, having met the Y2K challenge, and that it remains poised to meet whatever other challenges this century has to offer.
This is the third occasion on which I have addressed you on behalf of the judicial branch of government and apprised you of its condition. As always, I am grateful for the opportunity these occasions provide to update you concerning the Judiciary's activities during the past year and to inform you of its vision and goals for the future, including the legislative agenda and the specific initiatives planned for this year. It is hoped that this open and timely communication fosters, facilitates and/or enhances, a cooperative relationship between the branches of government.
Essential to any achievements of the Maryland Judiciary are my Court of Appeals' colleagues, the Judiciary's leadership team, the hard-working and dedicated judges and nonjudicial personnel and our partners at the bar and in government. Let me introduce you once more to my colleagues and the leadership team.
In transcending order of seniority, my colleagues on the Court of Appeals are: the Honorable John C. Eldridge of Anne Arundel County; the Honorable Irma S. Raker of Montgomery County; the Honorable Alan M. Wilner of Baltimore County; the Honorable Dale R. Cathell of Worcester County; and the Honorable Glenn T. Harrell, Jr. of Prince George's County. The Honorable Lawrence F. Rodowsky of Baltimore City is not with us, enjoying instead, I hope, a well deserved vacation.
Judge Larry Rodowsky deserves particular recognition. A member of the Court since January 25, 1980, he will reach mandatory retirement on November 10, 2000. On that date, an era will end and a new one will begin: no longer will Baltimore City have two representatives on the Court of Appeals; for the first time Western Maryland, consisting of Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Howard, and Washington Counties, will have its own. Judge Rodowsky has been, and continues to be, an indefatigable as well as productive jurist. During his tenure to date, he has authored 445 opinions, 398 for the Court, 38 dissenting opinions and 19 concurrences. Each case, no matter how complex or simple, received the same Rodowsky treatment, thorough, exhaustive. His impact will be felt for years to come and he will be missed.
The Judiciary's leadership team is the same this year as last: Joseph F. Murphy, Jr., Chief Judge of the Court of Special Appeals, Paul H. Weinstein, Chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges, and Martha F. Rasin, Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland. Another member of the team is the State Court Administrator. Frank Broccolina has been acting in that capacity since October. In that time he has done an outstanding job of directing the activities of the Administrative Office of the Courts and supporting and carrying out our efforts. You can expect to see a lot of him during this session.
Last year, I identified three things that the courts could do to bridge the gap between the public's perception of the courts and their performance and the reality of what courts do and how they actually perform. Specifically, I posited that the courts could acquire the public's trust and confidence by: 1) engaging in greater public outreach, consisting of educating the public as to its structure, function, and so forth, and communicating better with respect to what we are doing and why, 2) providing more and better services for court users, and 3) making the courts more accessible to those who are unable to afford lawyers or lengthy proceedings. While continuing to believe that public outreach is necessary, even critical, I am reminded of what Alexander Hamilton said about the administration of justice in the Federalist Papers: "[T]he ordinary administration of criminal and civil justice ... contributes, more than any other circumstance, to impressing upon the minds of people affection, esteem, and reverence towards government." What we have done over the past three years has been guided by this precept and what we plan for this year is also.
The Judiciary has undertaken a number of initiatives designed to improve the delivery of services to the people we serve and to improve the administration of justice. These initiatives are on-going and focus on different aspects of the overall goal. Many of them are not glamorous, simply nuts and bolts, grunt work, if you will, so necessary to the achievement of any worthwhile goal.
Let me begin with our Circuit Court Action Plan, which is designed to enhance the effectiveness of the circuit courts. The nature of the cases confronting the circuit courts, as well as the role of these courts in the justice systems and communities they serve, have grown increasingly complicated. How well those courts operate, their procedures, efficiency, if you will, has been shaped by complex historical, legal, operational and human factors. The 1999 Joint Chairmen's Report of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Committee on Appropriations contained budget narrative relating to a significantly expanded fiscal role by the State in the funding of circuit courts. It also expressed concern that certain inefficiencies and inequities in the delivery of judicial services by those courts be addressed. The action plan, developed at the request of the General Assembly, defines more fully the role of the State in funding the circuit courts and sets forth a specific set of funding proposals. In addition, it addresses the inefficiency and inequity issue.
The premise underlying the action plan is that neither the State nor local government should be relieved of responsibility for the administration of justice, that the ultimate effectiveness of the circuit courts rests with performance and accountability, not hierarchy and bureaucracy, with partnerships and interdependencies, not command and control. Thus, the plan stresses the importance of performance rather than structure as the critical factor in increasing effectiveness and the establishment and maintenance of substantive partnerships between all stakeholders through fiscal and operational cooperation and investment. Moreover, it contemplates and embraces a conceptual set of principles and performance goals under the leadership of the Conference of Circuit Judges to serve as the unifying means by which to implement the needed improvements in those courts.
The State funding we recommend provides a balanced fiscal relationship between State and local governments. We propose an incremental four-year plan that will amount to approximately $50 million annually upon complete implementation in 2004. For fiscal year 2001, the Judiciary has requested $6.7 million to cover the cost of creating 5 additional judgeships, one for each of the State's five largest jurisdictions, and complete state funding for Standing Masters, both necessary to our plan to establish greater uniformity of practice in the family law area, and an additional $10 in jury fees to complete a State reimbursement plan initiated in the 1998 General Assembly. Our plan calls for the authorization for 10 additional judgeships for the family divisions over two fiscal years. A critically important part of the proposal is that the local governments reinvest some of the local budget savings made possible by the State's increased investment in the circuit courts and, thus, enhance judicial services and efficiency further.
Based upon the essential fact that neither the State nor local government should be relieved of its responsibilities for the administration of justice, our plan proposes a fuller State/local funding relationship that ensures a maximum level of support for the changes necessary to improve the system.
Aside from the additional family division judges and although I have certified the need for 7 judges, I am asking for only one additional judgeship, for the Circuit Court for Worcester County. If created, that judge will serve the real substantial judicial manpower needs of the First Judicial Circuit, particularly in the area of family law.
Recognizing that the effective management of civil and criminal case processing is in the delivery of a prompt and fair system of justice, the General Assembly requested that the Judiciary report the condition of the case processing and management system in the circuit courts. I am happy to report that the general health of this critical system is sound; however, because any complex set of interdependent processes requires continuous oversight and improvement, the Judiciary is proposing a number of recommendations to that end. They are intended to increase the effectiveness of caseflow management by maximizing State and local input in case management; creating an environment that promotes a court's ability to manage cases more effectively; keeping courts better informed with reliable and more meaningful information; and developing programs to support and enhance expedition and timeliness.
Specifically, with your support, we will:
The Circuit Court for Baltimore City is a good example of how a court can work with a criminal justice coordinating council for the benefit of all components of the system. That court, at the same time, has examined many of its internal practices to identify how they can be changed to expedite the disposition of cases and it is developing case processing time standards.
The Judiciary is vitally interested in the passage of the Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) legislation that it has proposed again this year. That legislation is the result of our Foster Care Court Improvement Project, on which I have previously reported, and incorporates a number of recommendations that deal with the problems of children in distress, including some that address moving children more rapidly through the foster care system, reducing case processing delay, and improving information gathering and reporting. Special kudos are due Judge Pamela North, Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, and Vice Chair of the Foster Care Court Improvement Project, for her hard work and diligence on the CINA legislation over the last two years.
The first full year of operation of the Family Divisions and our Family Services programs has been one of marked growth and rapid program development. Courts have utilized State funding to establish a wide range of services to develop an holistic approach to resolving family problems. Practically, courts have leveraged State support effectively to increase program resources by collaborating with their local governments and private family and children service providers. By creating opportunities for communication, information sharing, and research between all involved in this critical endeavor, a general consensus has been reached as to how best to manage these cases, within the legal system, to the benefit of families and children.
Despite this progress, a number of challenges remain. With your continued support, the Judiciary's Ad Hoc Committee on the Implementation of Family Divisions, co-chaired by Judge Paul H. Weinstein, Circuit Court for Montgomery County and Judge Clayton Greene, Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, will move in the next year to:
This brings me to the Judiciary appointed Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission, on which I have reported in the past. It was established for the foregoing reasons and to advance the use of innovative conflict resolution methods statewide, not only in our courts but also in our communities, schools, businesses, government agencies, and the criminal and juvenile justice systems. After much research, discussion and statewide consensus building, the Commission has developed a Practical Action Plan. The plan proposes, and we are requesting funding, to:
In addition to promoting civility and empowering citizens to control the outcome of their disputes in peaceful ways, the Judiciary believes that the success of the ADR initiatives also will increase public access to justice and allow our courts to be more efficient and productive.
For example, the inability of many of our citizens to gain full access to our justice system prompted the Judiciary to form a Commission on Pro Bono, chaired by Judge Deborah Byrnes of the Court of Special Appeals. Aimed at increasing significantly the levels of lawyer volunteer services, it has not yet issued its final report. Anticipating that the Commission will make recommendations as to judicial recruitment, training, and recognition of volunteer attorneys, case scheduling accommodations, and the use of incentive programs to promote lawyer volunteerism, including a pilot to provide mediation training in exchange for pro bono assignments, we seek your support to create a coordinator position that will oversee this statewide initiative and funding to establish a mediation incentive program.
On January 1, the Judiciary, in collaboration with the Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice for Baltimore City, submitted the second of two reports to the General Assembly on the status of problems in the criminal justice system in Baltimore City. We should not forget that a court is only one part of a complex, sometimes conflict-laden, criminal justice system that includes police, prosecutors, defense counsel, correctional institutions and a host of supporting agencies. Each member of the system is independent and, while its own mission undoubtedly is consistent with that of the other constituent institutions and agencies, the path by which it is sought to be achieved may be, and often is, at cross purposes. In Baltimore City, the conditions inherent in any criminal justice system were exacerbated by: (1) the need for additional resources for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, including courtroom space; (2) the lack of adequate resources for the State's Attorney and Public Defender Offices; and (3) the absence of any organized communication between the various members of the criminal justice system.
The Court's response, under the leadership of Judge Ellen M. Heller, and before her, Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, and Judge David B. Mitchell, to these serious institutional and systemic problems only can be described as an extraordinary and successful effort to provide for the expeditious and fair adjudication of criminal cases in Baltimore City. This achievement has been and remains dependent upon: (1) strong judicial management; (2) communication and commitment between the members of the criminal justice agencies; (3) adequate funding for the courts, State's Attorney's Office and the Office of the Public Defender; and (4) improved information technology and management practices. It is also a testament to the dedication and hard work of the judges of that bench, who though unjustifiably maligned, never faltered in the quest to dispose of cases and in the process, do justice.
You should be aware of, and the record should reflect, the dramatic results the Circuit Court for Baltimore City has achieved:
Finally, District Court dockets today present a very different challenge to administrators and judges than they did just 5-l0 years ago. Just 3 1/2 years ago, dockets were routinely set without individual or special handling; a standard number of cases was set in each courtroom for a morning and again for an afternoon. Now, many cases are heard on an emergency basis with little or no scheduling, while others require hours or days of docket time. With civil jurisdiction in the District Court now up to $25,000, and as the cases become more complex, they are more frequently carried over to another docket, often to the next day. These cases are also generating more paperwork, the need for more research and written opinions; it is desirable that decisions in complicated cases be explained. We are asking for funding for 12 law clerks to assist 106 judges keep pace and thoroughly respond to these more complex cases.
In conclusion, the Maryland Judiciary
continues to be in excellent functional condition and poised to meet the
challenges of the 21st Century. With your help and that of the
Governor, we will continue to deliver to the people of the State the very
best justice has to offer and, in that way, continue apace the quest for
their trust and confidence. Thank you for your kindnesses and I wish for
each of you a most successful session.