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Adventures in Upper Marlboro

One of my recent trips to Upper Marlboro would probably have been frustrating to most people in my position, but I didn’t think it was too bad. I always feel like I am at home when I go to Prince George’s County Circuit Court. because of a summer stint at the Public Defender’s Office and my clerkship for Judge Beverly J. Woodard. I must say that it’s a great feeling to walk into a building and feel welcomed by the courthouse staff and attorneys I come across in passing.

It was a simple mission – go to the clerk’s office to file a few documents and walk a motion through to the judge’s chambers. In other counties this might have been a simple task — but not in Prince George’s County. I parked my car at a meter on Main Street, pulled out my wallet to find that I only had one quarter, which would only give me 20 minutes. I knew it was going to take at least a half-hour to complete my business. I had two dollars so I went to the 7-Eleven across the street and got change for $1; I guess it didn’t dawn on me to get change for the other dollar. I was all set after I put an hour and eighteen minutes on my meter.

The first step of walking through a motion is locating the file. Simple enough, right? I went to the ground-level file room where they usually keep all of the files and the clerk pleasantly greeted me. This particular clerk tends to have an amazing rapport with the public and almost always has a smile on his face. After some brief small talk, I gave him my case number and off he went in the search for the file. Moments later he came back empty handed and said the file wasn’t there. I wasn’t surprised because that it usually how the search for a file starts. He headed straight for the computer and said it was it was upstairs. Perfect, I thought, because I needed to go there anyway to file my documents.

I said goodbye and I headed upstairs to room D1022 to file my motions. Once again, I was greeted by smiling faces and pleasant hellos. I told a clerk I wanted to walk through my motion to shorten time. She typed the case number in the computer and that’s when the marathon search began. I figured I had some time so I started chatting with a friend at the counter.

I noticed the young lady searching for my file going from desk to desk, from the front of the office to the back of the office and from her computer to the phone. That couldn’t have been good. About ten minutes had passed when the young lady came back to the counter and shook her head.

“Mahasin, the computer says it’s here but I can’t find it anywhere,” she said.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised because that is a typical statement. I was just glad that I didn’t have to go from office to office because I wasn’t wearing the most comfortable heels.

She then said that she was going to start again. I told her that I wasn’t going anywhere and hopefully she would be able to find the file soon. I started to think about all of the million-and-one things I had to do back at the office and started to get a little antsy. She came back to the counter about seven or so minutes later and still had not found it.

Soon, another clerk asked me if I needed help. I told her that I had been in the office for a while because no one could locate my file. Then she headed to the computer, typed in the case number and preceded to the back of the office. I sat down on the bench and waited about ten more minutes for her to come back empty handed. I had two clerks looking for one file and I started to worry about the time in my meter. Plus, I was starving. I told the clerks that I was going to be back in about fifteen minutes. I needed to feed my meter and figured I had time to say hello to a couple of my courthouse friends.

I hiked back to 7-Eleven to get more change and a quick bite to eat. I walked to my car, which only had five minutes left on the meter and put another 40 minutes on it. I stopped by a couple of offices and chatted for a few minutes then headed back to room D1022 in hopes that they had found my file.

The office was buzzing with patrons and I headed straight for an empty spot at the counter. To my delight, one of the clerks searching for my file came to the counter with the file in her hand. I was relieved. I had about seven documents to file before I could take it to the judge’s chambers. The clerk told me it would take about twenty minutes for her to enter them into the computer. I told her I would be back. I went to a couple other offices and then back to D1022. The clerk handed me the file, I checked it out and went to the judge’s chambers.

A simple trip to the courthouse lasted over an hour and half. The clerks were friendly and diligent during the search, to which I am grateful. However, it wasn’t the most efficient use of my time or theirs. The Prince George’s County Circuit Court is definitely a high-volume courthouse, but there has to be a better method for keeping track of files. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to locate a file at this particular courthouse. But I really hope it gets resolved sooner rather than later.

2 comments

  1. Charles E. Moulden

    Ms. El-Amin:

    As I am certain you already know, the courts in Maryland are extremely busy and most are understaffed related to their workloads. And, although respectfully, I disagree that it’s “so hard to locate a file in this particular courthouse.” Given that the courts in Maryland are grappling with still having to manage enormous amounts of paper files, to misplace one is not so out of the ordinary. With budget cuts, extended judge and staff vacancies, and limited computing capabilities, Maryland courts still do a fantastic job. I would proffer that you will, in the not to distant future, see major change come to the courts via a new case management system. This system will provide the clerks with a wide range of new capabilities that will make the situation you experienced nonexistent. In the meantime, your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.

  2. Mr. Moulden:

    You say “to misplace one is not so out of the ordinary.” Unfortunately, it is not just one. Ms. El-Amin is describing a common occurrence in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. In my 3 years of practicing in that courthouse, I would estimate that approximate 60-70% of the files I am searching for take over 15 minutes to find, some as much as 90 minutes. I have arrived at hearings to find that the courtroom clerk cannot find the file; I have had hearings delayed because the file cannot be found. I once had a custody case file no one could find because it had somehow gotten filed in the child support office, though child support had never been at issue in that case. Luckily, as Ms. El-Amin stated, the personnel are all extremely helpful and friendly, so one clerk put in the time to search the Courthouse to find it. I have never experienced this problem at all, let alone to this magnitude, in any of the other 3 Circuit Courts I have practiced in (Montgomery County, Howard County, and Frederick County). I am glad the court system is working on a new case management system that will hopefully alleviate if not eliminate this problem.