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Closed meeting
(The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Legislators meet in secret

It’s not exactly the Papal conclave but legislators in Annapolis met behind closed doors Friday morning to discuss solutions to the Court of Appeals ruling requiring attorneys at bail hearings.

Delegates and senators who are part of a workgroup on the issue met in secret in the lounge of the House of Delegates.

Aside from the meeting not being announced, the location is essentially off limits to reporters who are allowed to pass through as they head to a section of the floor reserved for the press. Additionally, the door was closed and had a sign taped over the two doors proclaiming the room was off limits.

The state’s Open Meetings Act typically does not apply to legislative work groups because of the informal way they are created. Last week during an interview, however, Del Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery member of the work group, said the group would have treated an earlier meeting as open. The press was not informed of the time or location of the meeting.

Legislators are attempting to craft a legislative response to a recent announcement by the court that it would not revisit the  DeWolfe v. Richmond decision.

The cost of hiring enough public defenders to have at every bail hearing—about $30 million annually—is seen as too high by legislative leaders.

Last week, members of the work group said they were crafting legislation that would provide immediate relief (subscriber access) at a cost of about $15 million and buy time to work on a permanent fix in the 2015 session.

Maybe we’ll see white smoke rise from the cupola when the work is complete.