Plaintiffs propose compromise measure in bail case

Maryland's courts should provide defendants with lawyers at their first bail hearings in Baltimore starting in February, with other areas following closely behind, plaintiffs in a long running dispute over the issue proposed Friday.

The Court of Appeals ruled in September that criminal suspects have a right to a lawyer at their initial appearance before a court commissioner, but that right has been left in limbo since then as the state grapples with how to provide public defenders at potentially thousands of hearings.

This week Baltimore Circuit Judge Alfred Nance ordered that the courts should begin offering lawyers immediately or release defendants, fulfilling a constitutional requirement. But the judiciary said it is not yet ready to take that step and asked the Court of Appeals to review the move.

The issue is on hold again with the judges in Annapolis set to consider their next steps on Thursday.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, a group of suspects not given representation at their bail hearing, first asked the judges to put Nance's order into effect.

But in formal responses to the court filed Friday, they proposed a compromise, asking the top court to lay out a timetable that would require the judiciary to make attorneys available in Baltimore Feb. 3 and statewide within two months.

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