Top 5: ‘I think we have a crisis in front of us’

The latest developments stemming from the Court of Appeals’ counsel-at-bail ruling were both among the most-read legal stories of the week. Days after a House Judiciary Committee appeared poised to undo the Court of Appeals’ decision, the top court said it would delay putting it into effect for another two weeks. The Top 5 also includes a judge’s pending retirement and a state-approved settlement of an Eastern Shore sex-abuse lawsuit.

1. Judge Eyler to step down a little early — by Steve Lash

Court of Special Appeals Judge James R. Eyler will step down May 1, about 2½ months before the Maryland Constitution would compel his retirement at age 70.

“My intention has been to go into private mediation,” Eyler said last week in explaining his decision to retire early from the bench. “The sooner that occurs, the better. That is why I’m not waiting until July 13.”

Eyler, who has served on the intermediate appellate court since Jan. 9, 1996, said he would remain available after May 1 to hear cases by special assignment.

2. Mom with latex allergy wins in Court of Appeals — by Steve Lash

A private nursery school violated a Howard County statute by refusing to accommodate a mother’s request to stop using latex gloves when changing diapers, Maryland’s highest court has held.

In a 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals said Lisa Meade’s severe latex allergy constituted a “handicap” under the county’s Human Rights Code because the condition “substantially limited …major life activities,” specifically socialization and parenting.

3.  House Judiciary Committee could undo counsel at bail review ruling — by Steve Lash

The House Judiciary Committee appears poised to undo a court ruling that indigent defendants have a statutory right to counsel when their bail is set — a right the public defender estimates would cost the state $28 million annually.

Each measure would soften the blow to criminal defendants by expressly giving them the right to counsel at bail review hearings, which occur the first business day after the initial hearing.

4. Mentally disabled to settle sex-abuse suit — by Ben Mook

The state has reached a settlement with two mentally disabled women who claimed they were subjected to rape and sexual abuse for years by their supervisors at a state-run workshop.

The settlement of $465,000 is subject to approval by the Maryland Board of Public Works, which is scheduled to vote on it on Feb. 8.

The settlement also calls for the creation of a task force to review existing regulations, policies and training programs on sexual harassment and sexual contact within state-run and state-licensed programs and facilities.

5. Court of Appeals postpones lawyers-at-bail order –by Steve Lash

With just hours to spare, Maryland’s top court has decided to wait almost two weeks before ordering that public defenders be provided to indigent suspects when a court commissioner sets their bail.

The Court of Appeals’ order, which was slated to be issued Friday, will not be issued until Feb. 16 at the earliest. The order, or mandate, gives effect to the top court’s Jan. 4 ruling that criminal defendants have a statutory right to counsel at initial bail hearings

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