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In first year, Barbera scores goal

Under chief judge, Court of Appeals clears all 127 cases

Steve Lash//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//September 1, 2014

In first year, Barbera scores goal

Under chief judge, Court of Appeals clears all 127 cases

By Steve Lash

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//September 1, 2014

Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera has achieved her goal of having the high court decide by Aug. 31, the final day of its 2013-2014 term, all 127 cases it heard during the session and said she intends to duplicate the feat this term and beyond.

The high court’s 2014-2015 session officially started Monday, but the court will not sit for its first arguments of the term until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“I am committed to delivering to the people of Maryland fair, equitable and timely administration of justice, without sacrificing sound decision-making,” Barbera said in a statement Friday, two days after the court issued its final decision of the term.

“The time standard that the Court of Appeals has put in place reflects that effort,” she added. “Knowing that my colleagues on the court are fully supportive of the benchmark we have set for ourselves, I have every expectation of meeting it again in the upcoming term … and those terms that follow.”

Barbera’s meeting of the Aug. 31 deadline she set last September drew praise from members of the bench and bar for restoring confidence in the high court, which in its recent history had left many appeals undecided until years after they were heard.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice on time is justice delivered,” said state Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “Litigants before the court always have a sense of urgency. It’s a good thing when the court feels the sense of urgency and investment in a resolution.”

Raskin, a constitutional-law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, added that “the whole society benefits when justice is not something that the judicial system takes lightly.”

Howard S. Chasanow, a former Court of Appeals judge, hailed as “certainly groundbreaking” the court’s issuance of all opinions in the same term in which the cases were heard.

“Nobody can remember a term when all [cases] were decided in the same term,” said Chasanow, who served on the high court from 1990 to 1999. “I think it’s just a wonderful idea.”

Chasanow called the court’s years-long delays in issuing decisions “outrageous” and “inexcusable.”

These delays caused convicts to remain in prison and legal limbo for years before their convictions were overturned, he said. Civil litigants appealing six- and seven-figure judgments ended up having to pay much more money, as the annual interest rate on outstanding judgments is 10 percent, he added.

The Aug. 31 deadline is “a wonderful, wonderful reform,” Chasanow said.

However, the former judge said the Aug. 31 date should not be so ironclad as to cause complex cases with concurring and dissenting opinions to be decided too hastily.

“A little bit of a safety valve is probably in order,” he said.

Attorney Irwin R. Kramer, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the high court’s delays in issuing decisions, praised Barbera’s “resolve to handle cases in a much more expeditious manner.”

“The Court of Appeals is now conducting its business the way a Supreme Court should be conducting its business,” said Kramer, of Kramer & Connolly in Reisterstown.

“The ability to tell a client that ‘You will know your fate no later than Aug. 31’ is tremendous, because up until now the answer was: ‘We don’t know; it could take years.’”

Barbera announced the annual Aug. 31 deadline for decisions last Sept. 3, less than two months after Gov. Martin O’Malley named her chief judge. The high court issued its final decision of the term Wednesday, beating the deadline by four days.

Barbera’s pledge followed August 2011 and September 2012 reports in The Daily Record that found many Court of Appeals cases were still pending years after they were argued.

“You have to applaud Chief Judge Barbera for setting this policy and applaud her fellow members of the court for adhering to it,” Kramer said.


Some of the important decisions Maryland’s top court, the Court of Appeals, handed down during its 2013-2014 term, which ended Sunday:

DeWolfe v. Richmond, No. 34 Sept. Term 2011: Criminal defendants in Maryland have a state constitutional right to counsel at their initial bail hearings (decided Sept. 25, 2013).

Raynor v. State of Maryland, No. 69, Sept. Term 2013: Law enforcement may freely search the DNA in sweat people leave behind in police stations (decided Aug. 27, 2014).

BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. v. Rosen, No. 99 Sept. Term 2012: Retailers can enforce the liability-waiver agreements they make parents sign before allowing their children to enter the store’s play area (decided Nov. 27, 2013).

Maryland v. Goldberg, No. 8, Sept. Term 2013: The General Assembly cannot replace the ejectment process for ground leaseholders with a foreclosure process because the right of re-entry is a vested right (decided Feb. 26, 2014).


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