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Bail review hearings flood district court after riots

Bail review hearings for those arrested during the riots and looting earlier this week took over the city’s district court system Wednesday, with only one courthouse open — for the sole purpose of hearing bail reviews.

The public defender’s office was originally told that about 80 defendants were on the bail review docket Wednesday. But deputy district public defender Natalie Finegar said her office hoped many more would undergo their bail review via video streams piped into courtrooms before the court adjourned for the day. The bail reviews were held in the  John R. Hargrove, Sr. Building on East Patapsco Avenue, far from the epicenter of the riots that rocked Baltimore Monday.

To prepare for the onslaught of review hearings, Finegar said, about 40 attorneys descended on the courthouse. They  included both public defenders and volunteers from private practice, some of them from outside the city. Finegar said she told District Administrative Judge Barbara B. Waxman they’d be prepared to handle cases for 230 defendants, about the same number who were arrested Monday.

“Our position is that they should all be done today (Wednesday), and I believe Waxman is open to keeping the court open late,” Finegar said.

Many of the defendants were facing property theft charges, but there were more serious counts, too, including fleeing and eluding a police officer and attempting to disarm an officer.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, public defenders frequently took issue with the bail amounts set by district court commissioners at the defendants’ initial appearances.

In one case, a man named Ronald Morgan was arrested Monday in the parking lot of the Shoe City store in Westside Shopping Center after officers responded to calls of individuals looting the store. Morgan was charged with fourth degree theft, and a commissioner set bail at $15,000. The state, however, requested $150,000 bail; Morgan had a record.

Morgan’s attorney, Joan Fraser of the public defender’s office, argued that Morgan was arrested while trying to walk to his home a few blocks from the Shoe City store and should be released pending trial.

“This is somebody who was just walking through the parking lot,” Fraser said. “I think $150,000 is ridiculous.”

Instead, Morgan was granted $10,000 bail to be paid in cash only.

“We’re gravely concerned with some of the bails that have been set, particularly the cash-only bails,” Finegar said. “Cash-only bail is tantamount to no bail, so we’re particularly disappointed to seeing those being placed on our clients.”

And some defendants were denied bail altogether, despite what public defenders called inconsistencies in the police reports.

In the case of a man charged with attempting to disarm a police officer, the man’s attorney said the state claimed the confrontation began because police suspected he was a member of the Bloods gang due to his red clothing.

As the attorney pointed out in court, however, the defendant was wearing a blue and white striped shirt and jeans at the time of his arrest. Only the rim of his Chicago Bulls cap contained the color red.

Representing another defendant whom a police officer had claimed to witness coming out of a Shoe City store with stolen shoes, public defender Stewart Lyons requested that his client be released pending trial or receive a reduced bail.

Lyons urged District Judge Joan Gordon to treat the case as “individualized,” rather than tied into Monday night’s rioting and looting, but she declined to lower the commissioner’s $50,000 bail.

“This is a situation where the community is not going to be in any sort of danger,” Lyons said. “$50,000 bail is tantamount to no bail. There’s no chance he or his family would be able to come up with the money to pay a bondsman.”

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.