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Budget boost won’t cover lawyers at bail

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed $1.1 million boost to the public defender’s budget next fiscal year is welcome, but falls short of the money the agency will need to comply with the decision that it must represent indigent defendants at initial bail hearings, said Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe.

Paul B. DeWolfe

“It’s a massive undertaking that we’re trying to comply with,” DeWolfe said of the Court of Appeals’ Jan. 4 ruling in DeWolfe v. Richmond. The court’s mandate, or order requiring immediate compliance, is scheduled to be issued Feb. 2, he added.

DeWolfe said he has established an “ad hoc compliance committee” to determine the funding and staffing necessary to provide counsel for 170,000 initial bail hearings annually. Though the committee has not calculated the figures yet, DeWolfe said he is certain the governor’s proposed budget — which provides for no additional staff — will fall short of the agency’s needs.

The budget proposal “doesn’t address the current problem of the Richmond decision,” DeWolfe said.

By comparison, DeWolfe’s predecessor, Nancy S. Forster, determined in 2008 that it would cost the state $6 million to $8 million to provide representation at bail review hearings before a judge, the stage after the initial bail hearings at issue in Richmond.

Forster stated in an email message Friday that her figures were “very conservative” because they did not include the cost for additional space and support staff.

Forster was fired in 2010 by the board of trustees that oversees the public defender’s office. Her $1 million wrongful-termination suit, which the Baltimore City Circuit Court dismissed, is scheduled to go before the Court of Appeals in March.

In Richmond, the Court of Appeals held that the Maryland Public Defender Act requires that counsel be provided to indigent defendants at initial bail hearings and that its decision be implemented upon issuance of its mandate, which occurs 30 days post decision.

The public defender’s office supported the right to counsel but had urged the court, in vain, to delay its mandate until the office had sufficient funding and staffing to comply.

DeWolfe said Thursday that he will testify next month before Senate and House budget committees, where he predicts the subject of Richmond will arise. He did not disclose what he plans to tell committee members.

However, he predicted that the governor’s proposed $1.1 million increase for the public defender’s office will be approved.

“I don’t think our budget is going to be particularly controversial in light of the challenges we will have coming before us,” DeWolfe said.

In a related event, Del. Michael A. McDermott, R-Wicomico and Worcester, introduced legislation Friday to eliminate the statutory requirement at the heart of the Richmond decision. The measure, House Bill 112, was introduced as “emergency” legislation that would have to be passed by three-fifths of both the House and Senate and would take effect upon the date of enactment.

Slight rise for AG’s budget

O’Malley’s funding proposal for the Office of the Public Defender was part of his proposed $35.9 billion statewide fiscal 2013 budget, which he submitted to the General Assembly on Wednesday.

All told, O’Malley’s budget would give the Maryland Office of the Public Defender $85,201,597 in fiscal 2013, compared to $84,096,788 this year, a 1.2 percent increase. The agency’s funding under O’Malley’s plan would be supplemented by surcharges and federal assistance of $193,529, bringing the total fiscal 2013 operating budget to $85,395,126.

Under O’Malley’s plan, the attorney general’s office would receive $18,421,242 next year, compared to $18,392,530 this year, a 0.2 percent boost. Surcharges and federal assistance of $6,945,176 are expected to bring the office’s budget to $25,366,418, according to the governor’s proposal.

David Paulson, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler’s chief spokesman, said the office has “not had time to get into it and examine the budget as proposed.”

Judiciary’s request

Also included in the governor’s submission to the legislature is the $392.4 million budget prepared by the Maryland Judiciary, representing a $17.7 million increase over the current fiscal year.

Of those extra funds, $6.6 million would go toward benefits and pensions, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Another $5 million would go toward restoring money the General Assembly had cut from the Judiciary’s budget last year, the office stated.

The Judiciary would add 48 staff positions at a cost of $2.2 million in fiscal 2013. Those positions would include about 30 new district court bailiffs, 10 foreign language interpreters and six information technology staffers, the administrative office reported.

Judiciary representatives declined to comment publicly on the budget proposal.

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell is expected to defend the Judiciary’s fiscal 2013 request — a 4.7 percent increase from this year’s level of $374,649,767 — before Senate and House budget committees next month.

The Judiciary’s funding in fiscal 2013 is expected to be supplemented by surcharges and federal assistance of $60 million, which would bring its total budget to more than $452 million if the General Assembly approves its request, the administrative office stated.