Judge warns Baltimore criminal justice council could shut down after Hogan reassigned funding

Baltimore’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council — which has met since 1999 — could be forced to cease operations after Gov. Larry Hogan stripped the panel of its state funding.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles J. Peters, chairman of the body, sent a letter to the group stating that Wednesday’s meeting of the body could be its last.

“The abrupt cessation of funding requires the members of the Council to consider the future status of the CJCC and its operations,” Peters wrote. “Unless any source of funding is apparent, the Council must consider whether its current operations can continue.”

Last month, Hogan announced he was yanking funding from the group, arguing that members were not taking violent crime seriously. The Republican governor said he would redirect all the $219,000 used to fund the panel to Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration.

Baltimore is grappling with a persistently high homicide rate — 275 people have been killed this year. Violent crime is up 15 percent over the previous year.

“If you’re not going to focus on violent crime in the city, then we don’t feel the need to fund it any longer,” Hogan said at a news conference last month. “We’re giving all the funding to the city of Baltimore, to the mayor’s office, so it can be spent to try to do something about violent crime, rather than spent for a lunch where people sit around and talk about other issues.”

In a letter distributed this week, Peters wrote that almost all of the state funding for the CJCC goes to pay for staff, who perform a wide array of tasks, including coordinating services for domestic violence victims, educating teenagers about dating violence and addressing elder abuse.

He said they could lose their jobs as a result of the cut.

If the council is terminated, Peters wrote, members would have to determine how to address the issues it was working on, including facilitating warrant service, identifying technology needs, addressing transportation of prisoners from jails to the courthouse, and mental health and domestic violence issues.

“These and other achievements contribute to and promote public safety, perhaps in ways that are less than obvious, but nonethless important to the public whom we serve,” he wrote.

Hogan had grown frustrated with the council in recent months.

As violent crime rose, the governor sought to meet with Baltimore judges to discuss why some gun offenders were receiving suspended sentences. But the judges declined to attend the meeting, citing a rule that says judges “shall not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”

At last month’s meeting of the council, Peters elaborated on why the judges felt it inappropriate to meet with Hogan.

“Judge Peters further explained that although they are an integral part of the criminal justice system, they are not part of law enforcement and cannot be perceived to be on the same team with or allies of law enforcement,” according to minutes of the meeting.

Peters also said that directly confronting violent crime is not a function of the group.

“Judge Peters stated that direct interdiction of crime has never been an objective that the Council has undertaken, nor could realistically effectuate for a variety of reasons,” the minutes state.

Nevertheless, Glenn Fueston, the director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, made a motion for the council to address the issue of violent crime in Baltimore. His attempt was unsuccessful.

“Mr. Fueston expressed concern that the CJCC’s discussion of violent crime has only lasted for seven minutes and he reiterated that he wanted to move on his motion now since people were dying,” the minutes state. “Mr. Fueston said that he would report back that no progress has been made on the Governor’s request.”

The panel — whose members include the police commissioner, Baltimore state’s attorney, three judges, the mayor and City Council president, among others — was formed in 1999 to address systemic problems affecting criminal justice in Baltimore, initially focusing on expediting the processing of criminal cases by coordinating the efforts of criminal justice system participants.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor believes state dollars will be spent more wisely by the Pugh administration.

“We thank the members of the CJCC for their service, however, as the governor made clear, this funding has been moved to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, where our administration has been assured it will be used to address violent crime and save lives,” she said in a statement.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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