Justice decayed, answers to questions of feasbility delayed

Everyone agrees the Baltimore City Circuit Court buildings are “absolutely terrible” and that a new courthouse is in order, the city’s administrative judge declared at a meeting of city and state criminal justice officials last fall.

To this end, the city and its circuit court ponied up between $600,000 and $700,000 for a Maryland Stadium Authority-picked consultant to study the upgrade possibilities.

At that same September 2009 Baltimore City Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting, the representative from Los Angeles-based consultancy AECOM Inc. promised a final report with recommendations by this past spring.

In January, MSA spokeswoman Jan Hardesty offered assurances of that schedule.

“It’s on course, it’s on schedule,” Hardesty said. “It should be out in early spring.”

When nothing came out by June, I spoke with Judge Marcella Holland, the city’s administrative judge, who told me the study’s publication date was more likely to be late summer. When it still wasn’t out by late September, I asked again after its progress. The latest update came Friday from MSA Project Executive Gary A. McGuigan, who acknowledged the delay but said such an important matter should not be rushed.

“It’s still going to be a little bit,” he said. “My best guess right now is it’s probably going to be the end of the year.

“It’s very complicated. It’s a very large report, and we want to make sure we get this thing right,” McGuigan explained. “It’s taken longer than I had hoped, but like I said, we want to get this thing right.”

So, given that it’s already been several years that litigants, lawyers, judges, courthouse employees and members of the public have had to deal with a decaying — if still stately in some ways — pair of courthouses, and it won’t be several more years (or, God forbid, decades) until the problem is properly solved, what’s another year or so (and a half million dollars) more spent putting a plan together?

MSBA’s predicament: Principle or past president?

Well, this could get awkward.

Alison Asti, who filed Monday to run for a seat on the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, is a past president of the Maryland State Bar Association. So, do you think she can count on the MSBA’s endorsement?

Not likely.

The MSBA’s longstanding policy is to endorse the sitting judges, and a vote for Asti would be a vote to unseat Judge Ronald H. Jarashow (who joined the court on March 1) or Judge Laura S. Kiessling (Feb. 19).

Bet that next Board of Governors’ meeting will be fun, won’t it?

I should mention that Asti also chairs The Daily Record’s independent Editorial Advisory Board, but this paper has a foolproof way of dealing with endorsements. We don’t make them.

Asti (eventually) stepped down

Well, it looks like Alison Asti can finally sleep at night.

After about seven months of intense media scrutiny, rampant rumors and political infighting, the Maryland Stadium Authority’s executive director is out of a job.

Wednesday, she reached a deal to resign with the MSA board and the Attorney General’s office. A visibly relieved Asti talked to reporters afterward, and, while not happy with losing the job she’s had for 14 years, at least she has the closure.

On the phone Thursday morning, she sounded relaxed and even joked around a bit.

Fred Puddester, the MSA board chairman, also was relieved. He stepped into the MSA in July and was immediately confronted with the political hand grenade that was Asti’s future, litigation with the Orioles and a threatened hunger strike by day laborers.

“This is a tough job,” he joked with reporters after Wednesday’s meeting. Wednesday afternoon, while reporters with looming deadlines sat for three excruciating hours like expectant fathers in one of MSA’s conference rooms, Puddester did his best Henry Kissinger imitation, going back and forth between the board, Asti and J.B. Howard — deputy attorney general — brokering a deal that would make everyone happy.

In the end, it seems to have worked. The board approved her resignation unanimously and now all that’s missing is the dotting of the I’s, the crossing of the T’s and the approval of the Board of Public Works. But take it from someone who has been covering this story with so many peaks and valleys for a while now, until the ink is dry on the agreement anything can happen.

So, do you think Asti was treated fairly? What happens at the MSA next?

Let us know what you think.

-LOUIS LLOVIO, Business Writer