Maryland Electronic Courts
Circuit Court Real Property Records Improvement Fund – Funding: HB 51 & HB 54 (Both Passed)
The bills extend the termination date on certain recordation fee surcharges in the Court of Appeals and the Court of Special Appeals (HB 51), and increase certain filing fee surcharges in the Court of Appeals, Court of Special Appeals, the circuit courts and the District Court of Maryland, for the purpose of expanding and sustaining the Maryland Electronic Courts Program (MDEC). Under HB 54, the filing fee surcharge increases may not exceed $3 per summary ejectment case and $8 per case for specified civil cases; and requiring the surcharges to be deposited in the Circuit Court Real Property Records Improvement Fund (LRIF). By statute, major information technology initiatives of the Judiciary are funded through the LRIF.
MSBA supported both bills.
Nonpartisan Judicial Elections: SB 679 (Failed)
The bill was developed by the MSBA Special Committee on Law Reform, and was an attempt to address the Court of Appeals decision in Suessmann v. Lamone, which sustained right of the Democratic and Republican parties in the State to exclude Independent voters from participating in judicial primary elections. The bill would have abolished judicial primary elections and would have provided for random ordering of candidate names on ballots. This bill did not entail amending the Maryland Constitution, and involved only statutory changes. The bill, however, was Withdrawn by the Sponsor at the same time as other judicial election related bills (see below).
MSBA supported SB 679.
Abolition of Contested Judicial Elections: SB 367/HB 582, HB 548, HB 1071 (All Withdrawn)
The bills, all amendments to the Maryland Constitution, would have abolished Maryland’s current system of subjecting circuit court judges to a contested election at the first election after appointment to the Bench. SB 367/HB 582 would have provided for vetting of judicial candidates by a Judicial Nominating Commission, gubernatorial appointment, and advice and consent of the Senate. Further, the bill would have reduced judicial terms from 15 to 10 years, with reappointment by the Governor at the end of a term.
HB 542 and HB 1071 would have provided for gubernatorial appointment, terms of 10 years, instead of 15 years, followed by retention elections at the end of each 10 year term, up until the age of mandatory retirement.
MSBA has supported legislation to abolish contested circuit court elections for over 30 years, and supported each of the bills as an improvement over the current election system.
Additional Judgeships: HB 111 (Failed)
HB 111 would have increased the number of resident judges of the circuit court in Baltimore, Charles, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City, and increased the number of resident judges of the District Court in District 5 (Prince George’s County) and District 6 (Montgomery County). A House Floor Amendment (Del. Dumais) would have made the Act contingent on the inclusion of funding of at least $2,049,500 in the fiscal year 2016 State budget for the additional judges and staff. The bill passed the House, but died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
MSBA supported HB 111.
Judges – Mandatory Retirement Age: SB 847 (Failed)
SB 847, as introduced, would have proposed a constitutional amendment to the voters of Maryland to increase the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 75. A Senate Judicial Proceeding Committee amendment reduced the retirement age to 73, and House Judiciary Committee and House Floor amendments clarified the application of the Act, if approved by the voters.
SB 847 made it to the House floor, but died without further action. A similar measure was passed by the General Assembly in 1994, but was rejected by the voters.
MSBA did not take a position on SB 847.
Pretrial Release (Richmond Decision)
Continuation of Appointed Attorney Program (APP): HB 70 – Budget Bill
During the 2014 Session, the General Assembly established the Appointed Attorney Program through the State Budget, after failing to statutorily address the Richmond decision’s requirement for appointment of counsel for indigent arrestees at initial appearances before District Court Commissioners. At the time, the legislature restricted $10M of the Judiciary’s budget for the purpose of procuring counsel at those initial appearances. While the MSBA believes that responsibility for that representation lies more appropriately with the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), MSBA has supported the Judiciary in their administration of the APP. During the 2015 Session, the Judiciary budgeted $10M t, in anticipation of continuing the APP, and since the legislature again provided no alternative mechanism for the provision of counsel at initial appearances, the APP will continue into Fiscal Year 2016.
Charge by Summons: HB 494 (Failed) Charge By Summons
HB 494 would have authorized a District Court commissioner to set bond or commit persons to jail in default of bond or release them on personal recognizance if circumstances warranted. Additionally, the bill would have authorized a police officer to charge an individual by citation for an offense that may be charged by summons under a specified provision of law. HB 494 would have required a police officer to submit a specified statement of charges, serve a statement and summons, and release the defendant under specified circumstances enumerated in the bill.
HB 494 passed the House, but received an Unfavorable Report in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where its previous introduction died in 2014 (HB 1186).
MSBA did not take a position on HB 494, but closely monitored the bill.
Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Richmond Decision: HB 496 (Failed)
HB 496 proposed a constitutional amendment that, in effect, would have overturned the Richmond decision by providing that Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution may not be construed to require government-funded representation of an indigent defendant at an initial appearance before a District Court Commissioner. The bill received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, which took no further action.
MSBA did not take a position on HB 496, but closely monitored the bill.
Law School Clinical Programs: HB 559 (Failed)
HB 559 – University System of Maryland – Law School Clinics – Prohibited Activities would have prohibited the law clinic at either of the State’s 2 law schools from participating in litigation opposing, contesting, or seeking judicial review of an act, a decision, or a determination of a State agency, department, or board.
MSBA (including the Sections on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, and the Delivery of Legal Services vigorously opposed HB 559.
For further information, please contact Richard Montgomery, MSBA Director of Legislative and Governmental Relations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 269-6464 (Baltimore & Annapolis areas) or (301) 858-5353 from the Greater Washington area.