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LAW NOTES (104283)

ABA weighs in on race, death penaltyReport: Executions up dramatically

With a death-penalty moratorium bill promising to make a comeback in this session of the General Assembly (see story, right), the American Bar Association has made its position clear.

“The American Bar Association supports a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty until it can be shown that it is implemented fairly and not due to the color of the defendant’s skin,” said ABA president Martha W. Bennett in a news release announcing the organization’s sixth State of Criminal Justice report.

The rate of executions in the U.S. went up 158 percent between 1993 and 1999, with four states responsible for nearly two-thirds of all executions in 1999, according to the report, which was issued last month. In contrast, the crime rate is at its lowest level since 1973, violent crime is at its lowest since 1985, and the number of black juveniles being arrested for violent crimes has decreased by more than 40 percent, the report revealed.

The report, compiled by the ABA’s criminal justice section, found that since the death penalty was reinstated, more than 3,500 prisoners have been sentenced to death, with blacks disproportionately represented on death row.

Bennett said fundamental fairness in the administration of justice in capital cases must be examined. “We must safeguard the two most important functions of the criminal justice system: protection of the innocent and punishment of the guilty,” she said. “And we must restore the public’s confidence in the operation of our justice system.”

Other findings in the report released last month include: a doubling of state prison expenditures between 1990 and 1996; the doubling of incarceration of juveniles in state prisons from 1985 to 1997; a dramatic decrease in crime occurring on school grounds; and a drop-off in the use of firearms in violent crimes between 1993 and 1998.

For a copy of the report, call the ABA Service Center at (800) 285-2221 and request product code 509-0079. The cost is $14.95, which includes shipping and handling.

Baltimore lawyer to head DRI committee [IMGCAP(1)]

Baltimore attorney Margaret Fonshell Ward, principal in the litigation group of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes in Towson, was appointed vice chair of the Trial Tactics & Techniques Committee of the 22,000-member Defense Research Institute, the nation’s largest association of civil litigation defense attorneys.

“It’s a terrific organization to be a part of, and it’s great to get involved in civil defense matters on a national level,” said Ward, who was appointed late last year to a two-year term. “My appointment is also a good opportunity for the bar in Maryland and in particular will give focus to Baltimore at the national level.”

Ward, whose practice focuses on business, commercial and insurance-based litigation, is a graduate of Loyola College and earned a J.D. in 1987 from Georgetown University Law Center. She is a member of Maryland and D.C. bar associations, the Maryland Defense Counsel, the Baltimore City Bar Association and the Lawyers Campaign for the CollegeBound.

In addition to her experience in jury and bench trials and appellate litigation, Ward has provided pro-bono representation of children through the Children in Need of Assistance program, which provides legal help to abused and neglected children receiving care from the Maryland Department of Social Services.

Tax dream-team for low-income families

Families earning $29,990 or less can receive free income tax preparation service courtesy of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the tax section of the Maryland State Bar Association next month.

“We have over 40 lawyers and accountants who have volunteered to provide this service at no cost,” said MVLS executive director Winifred D. Borden in a news release. The service will be available on Feb. 3, Feb. 10 and Feb. 17 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the MVLS, 520 W. Fayette St., in Baltimore. Appointments are required; to schedule one, call (410) 547-6537 between 9 a.m. and noon. A final note: The free tax service is geared to people who qualify for the Earned Income Credit, although any low-income taxpayer is eligible.