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Here come the judges: Law adds 2 to CSA

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s intermediate appellate court will grow by two judges under legislation Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law Tuesday.

Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser, who lobbied for the bill, called the boost in jurists from 13 to 15 “extremely important,” as it will ease the burden on his overworked court.

“We have a court that does a superb job but is just overwhelmed with its caseload,” said Krauser, who attended O’Malley’s signing ceremony and shook his hand afterward. “We are extremely grateful to the legislature.”

The two additional Court of Special Appeals judges, to be appointed by the governor, will hold at-large seats, not tied to any particular jurisdiction. The law, Senate Bill 239, will go into effect July 1.

The Court of Special Appeals is not the only court that will see its bench increase under the legislation, which Senate and House leaders introduced this session at the Maryland Judiciary’s request.

One judgeship each will be added to the circuit courts in Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick and Wicomico counties.

Thomas G. Ross, who chairs Maryland’s Conference of Circuit Judges, said Tuesday that these six counties have “significant” population-to-judge and caseload-to-judge ratios. The additional judgeships “will ease some of that burden,” said Ross, a Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court judge.

Four additional district court judgeships will also be created under the law — one each in Baltimore city and in Charles, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Chief District Court Judge Ben C. Clyburn said the additional judgeships will “fill a compelling need,” as those courts have relied on specially assigned retired judges to help with the caseload.

“We’ll continue to do the best we can in terms of what we have,” Clyburn added. “We’ll continue to get it [the work} done.”

The addition of the 11 appellate, circuit and district court judges — as well as their support staffs and related expenses — will add $3.2 million to the state budget next fiscal year, which begins July 1, according to the Maryland Judiciary.

The Court of Special Appeals’ current complement of 13 judges has remained unchanged since 1977, while the number of cases heard by each judge has climbed from 115 cases to 157 per year, Krauser said in explaining the need for the boost in court membership.

Krauser, in testimony to Senate and House judiciary committees this past session, said civil litigants and criminal defendants have a right to appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, which, with limited exceptions, must hear each appeal. As a result, each of the 13 judges writes between eight and 12 opinions per month, he said.

In addition, the court’s civil appeals have increased in complexity, Krauser said. Since 1977, the average length of published civil opinions has increased 236 percent, while the average length of all its reported opinions rose 138 percent, he added.