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Montgomery County Circuit Court
Montgomery County Circuit Court

Md. courts hope to see caseloads alleviated with additional judges

After two years without any additional judges, the Maryland Judiciary is hopeful that some of the most bogged-down jurisdictions will see additions to their ranks in the next fiscal year.

Two bills cross-filed in the General Assembly propose to add 11 circuit court judges and two district court judges as a part of the multi-year plan the Judiciary was asked to implement in 2011.

Judgeship needs are determined by using a nationally-recognized formula that takes into account population and the number and type of cases being filed, according to Montgomery County Circuit Administrative Judge John W. Debelius III, chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges.

“We’ve never actually asked for the actual number of judges that we need under that formula,” Debelius said.

According to the annual analysis of the need for judgeships submitted in October for fiscal year 2017, no additional trial court judgeships were created in the last two years “despite demonstration and certification of need, accompanied by requests for additional judgeships.”

The Judiciary certified a need for 31 additional judgeships in trial courts and two additional Court of Special Appeals judges, but only requested a total of 12 trial court judges for fiscal year 2017. The proposed bills include one more trial-court position than was requested in October.

The report submitted to the legislature in October indicates the number of judges needed as well as the number of judges there is space and funding to support. Just 15 of the 31 judgeships needed could be supported in the next fiscal year.

While a judge’s salary is paid by the state, individual jurisdictions are responsible for funding for a courtroom and chambers as well as staff, according to Debelius.

“The Judiciary would love to see all the needs for judgeships fulfilled, but we’re also dependent on each jurisdiction to provide the courtroom and the support staff for those judgeships,” he said.

For example, Prince George’s County needs one more circuit court judge and four district court judges, according to the report. While there is space and funding for the circuit court judge, the county only has space for one additional district court judge, according to the report, so the Judiciary only requested those two positions.

Montgomery County, on the other hand, needs three circuit court judges and one district court judge, and has the space and funding for all of them. The proposed legislation would add two circuit court judges and one district court judge in the county.

Other jurisdictions that would see an increase are Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Frederick and Harford counties as well as Baltimore city.

The bills – House Bill 74 and Senate Bill 117 – are scheduled for a hearing Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.

Populations, cases on the rise

There has been a steady increase in case volume across the state, according to Debelius, which accompanied increases in population.

“We’re just so backed up,” he said of Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Retired judges are being called on to assist in the increased workload, according to the Judiciary’s report; those judges were used for more than 900 days during the last seven fiscal years.

Certain cases, such as civil non-motor torts, have been on the rise, according to the judiciary’s report, and family law cases increased slightly between fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

For family law cases, many jurisdictions commit significant resources to support for pro se litigants.

In eight jurisdictions, juvenile cases increased, and “any delay in the life of these cases may jeopardize compliance with applicable case time standards,” the report states. Criminal cases also rose in some jurisdictions.

Larger jurisdictions have judges assigned to different divisions and a scheduled rotation, Debelius said. In Montgomery County, for example, judges work an 18-month rotation in one area then move rotate, usually to where cases are getting backed up.

Less-populous jurisdictions have general assignment judges that handle cases of all types as they come, he said.

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