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Early Disposition Court Goes ACM

Today the office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City will have its first complete automated case management docket for a single full session of early disposition court, an experimental solution designed to reduce the burden on the city’s criminal dockets.The key to the success of the early disposition court is the extent to which prosecutors will make plea offers that defendants and their counsel will accept, thus disposing of those cases. The automated docket will help by making it possible to manipulate an enormous amount of information, including criminal records and histories of previous offers made, and to track the performance of the experiment.This particular docket is comprised of 44 cases the Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office has recommended for early disposition. The offers were entered on the docket in the state’s attorney’s network between 10 p.m. Sunday and 5 a.m. Monday. The defendants’ responses to the offers were made and entered yesterday. Although administered through the district court, the potential success of the automated case management program in making and tracking offers to defendants could have a significant impact on the circuit court criminal docket.“It’s a great idea if it works,” said Leigh B. Middleditch, chief of Baltimore’s state’s attorney’s management information systems division. “If we can get early disposition court to work we will start a process that could end up taking hundreds of cases off the district and circuit court dockets.“What’s most important is using the technology to peek into the future,” he added. “The changes we make now will allow prosecutors to do their jobs better in the future.”Middleditch and his two principal vendors — software provider Graphic Computer Solutions Inc., of Silver Spring, and the Annapolis-based hardware vendor USC/Canterbury Corp. — will present their first results today to Baltimore City Circuit Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller and Judge David B. Mitchell, in charge of the circuit court’s criminal docket.Tomorrow, Middleditch said, he will make the same report to the monthly meeting of Baltimore’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, of which he is also chief information officer. Middleditch and Darren O’ Brien, the assistant state’s attorney detailed to Middleditch to help tailor the program to lawyers, agree that among the strengths of the case management software the office is using are its abilities track cases and prosecutors’ offers from arrest through final disposition — and to keep an eye on who is doing what with each case at every level.The state’s attorney’s office adapted the early disposition court software, ED/Dialog, from its office case management program, Prosecutor Dialog. Challenges remainMiddleditch plans to apply what he and his colleagues have learned thus far to develop a community court case management program when that court becomes a reality next year — and possibly for the entire court system. However, the challenges are daunting. Calling drug treatment “the centerpiece of what we have designed,” State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said that the success of early disposition court will depend on the availability of alternatives to incarceration — particularly drug treatment, since two-thirds of the participants are expected to be misdemeanor drug defendants.The theory is that applying triage methodology at intake will reduce clogged criminal dockets by separating violent and repeat offenders — who are not eligible for early disposition — from the majority of misdemeanor offenders.Depending on the nature of the offense charged and the defendant’s prior record, the alternatives include a number of options, among which are probation, drug treatment, mediation, fines, community service and incarceration.“We have to get this whole group of people within the system getting the treatment they need,” Jessamy said. “If this is not done, the system will not work.”Another challenge yet to be matched is whether the city police department will be able to provide on-site chemical analysis of suspected controlled dangerous substances seized in evidence — which it has promised, but not yet delivered.And of course, Part 40, the courtroom at Baltimore’s Central Booking Intake Facility has yet to be renovated to accommodate its newly designated, modified use.