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Editorial Advisory Board: Consolidating the circuit courts

Consolidation of the Maryland circuit courts into a single circuit court funded by the state and centrally administered is not a new idea; it is time to re-examine this idea.

In 1991 Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy testified before the House of Delegates, “more than any other court level, circuit courts are confronted with a terrible carnage wrought upon our people by illicit drugs.” He further testified to the legislature that the state’s 24 circuit courts, each operated and funded by the counties and the city of Baltimore in which they sit, are “uneven, uncertain, a real mishmash.”

Not only is this accurate today regarding the nature and flow of cases facing some jurisdictions but not others, it is even more true of the facilities and resources that the counties and the City of Baltimore are able to muster in their efforts to maintain court facilities and administer justice. To be sure, those efforts and results are very uneven from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The proof of this uneven mishmash can be found simply by examining the facilities housing the various circuit courts around the state. For example, Queen Anne’s County has a new, state-of-the art courthouse as do Howard and Montgomery counties. All but two jurisdictions, Prince George’s County and Baltimore, have implemented MDEC.

By comparison to these new courthouses, Baltimore’s two circuit court buildings can best be described charitably as dilapidated and unsafe. One building is over 120 years old; the other building is over 90 years old and it was repurposed years ago from being a combination federal courthouse and post office.

The trend has been toward unification. There was the consolidation of the many courts under the city’s Supreme Bench, and the movement towards uniform rules, away from local rules. Unification has worked for the Court of Appeals, the Court of Special Appeals and the District Courts, each with its own chief judge. Only the circuit courts are left to be unified.

With more lawyers than ever engaging in statewide practice, the delivery of justice throughout the state of Maryland should be as close to uniform as possible. The Maryland circuit court system is a remnant from colonial times; the state should take over the funding, and the administration, of a consolidated circuit court.

Editorial Advisory Board member Arthur F. Fergenson did not participate in this opinion.


James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

L. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.