Interns to the rescue?
Because paying actual lawyers and/or judges to do their jobs as the constitution requires is, apparently, a non-starter, Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County) has come up with a brilliant plan to save taxpayers $30 (or maybe $55) million while providing those accused of crimes with legal representation it their initial bail hearings.
The idea: law students.
From the press release (all emphasis in original):
The solution would allow current law students at the University of Baltimore or University of Maryland Schools of Law to provide representation to indigent defendants at their initial hearings in lieu of hiring additional public defenders.
Okay, some background. In Maryland, arrestees get an initial bail review, which is done by a District Court Commissioner. Traditionally, defendants have not been given access to a free lawyer at these short hearings. A guy—Quinton Richmond—sued over this and won. (This is hugely oversimplifying things, but that’s actually a good thing. Trust me—or Google it and weep).
The gist of the matter is that the commissioners could keep people locked up for several days before they get a hearing before an actual judge—at which time the lawyer would be provided. That can be a pretty hard weekend for someone in, say, Baltimore City, as Richmond was. And last fall it was duly ruled an Unconstitutional Infringement.
Solutions proposed include giving everyone a public defender at court commission hearings (at an estimated cost of $30 million), making court commissioners responsible only for weekend and evening bail hearings using some sort of computer algorithm to determine who is eligible to go free without bail and [cue coughing; laughter from the judiciary] making District Court Judges themselves keep weekend and night hours.
Legislation on the tech fix is pending. Cardin’s idea was supposed to be offered as an amendment Friday to House Bill 985, a fairly unworkable looking bit of legislation which would require public defenders to determine the income of defendants before bail hearings.
We asked Joshua Greenfeld, Cardin’s Legislative Liaison, to tell us how this solution came to the table a few days before the end of the legislative session.
Q. Are law students considered lawyers?
A: They are considered student attorneys when they practice under a lawyer. I did this myself when I was in law school. Technically they’re considered rule 16 student attorneys—and the rule allows them to be temporarily licensed.
Q. Can they file an appearance?
A. That is a good question. (Looking up information) They can do it…in fact they do do it in certain instances.
Q. Has Del. Cardin got everyone on board for this plan?
A. He has worked with the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland.
Q. But—in the legislature? In the judiciary? Are those folks on board?
A. We’re optimistic because it’s going to save money… But it’s unclear. We’re going to be working with as many legislators as possible.
Q. Who else should we call to get more about how this would work? Who at the University of Baltimore?
A. UBalt is still working up the details on that. They won’t be prepared to talk to you. They’re working it up.
And there you have it: your legislature at work as the deadline looms. For the record, the numbers could work: the Office of Public Defender estimated they’d need about 323 new hires to comply with the Richmond ruling. The University of Baltimore has about 1,000 law students; UMD has roughly 200.