Court Watch Not Working As Baltimore Mayor Hoped


In July 2002, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, saying he was sick of Baltimore criminals getting off easy in the courts, called on private citizens to monitor gun cases, pressuring prosecutors and judges to get tough on violent offenders. Business executives pledged to make the court watchdog plan work.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the plan has not worked as intended, instead evolving into two academic studies, one of which has nothing to do with violent crime. “Basically, it became clear to us that staffing a full-scale court watch process with executives from the Baltimore business community, it wasn’t feasible,” said Gene Bracken of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “There are too many courts,” he said. “There are too many venues. We realized we just don’t have the manpower to do something like that.”

0’Malley was angry over the release of a teen charged with shooting a 10-year-old boy. He wanted volunteer observers to write reports on which judges and prosecutors were following state sentencing guidelines and which were letting violent criminals off easy.

Prosecutors didn’t like the idea. “Successful prosecution of violent offenders and ultimately sentencing by the courts should not resort to an adversarial game of ‘gotcha’ between law enforcement, the courts and the community,” said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

The business group did commission a study by the University of Maryland Law School to looked at the frequency with which District Court defendants request jury trials in Circuit Court. That can be a problem because Circuit Court, which handles the most serious crimes, gets clogged with misdemeanor cases. The study is in draft form.

Another study will be conducted by University of Baltimore Law School students, probably examining gun and violent-crime cases. That study might explore issues such as sentencing and bail that the watchdog program would have focused on, but it will not be a court monitoring program.


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