Howard to delay most civil cases for murder trials


Most civil cases scheduled for trial during the next 12 months in Howard County will be postponed because of a series of murder trials starting next month, the Circuit Court's assignment clerk said yesterday.

"Between 75 percent and 90 percent of the civil cases during the next 12 months are expected to be postponed," said Deborah L. Cook, the assignment clerk.

A substantial number of criminal cases also will have to be postponed.

Ms. Cook said there currently is a backlog of 3,000 civil and divorce cases and 1,200 criminal cases. Typically, she said, civil cases are postponed three times before going to trial. With the new delay, it could be up to three years before a civil case reaches trial.

Michael D. Rexroad, who heads the state's attorney's Circuit Court division, said there could be as many as eight capital cases out of 12 murder trials scheduled over the next 18 months. The trial of a capital case can last eight weeks, he said.

The president of the Howard County Bar Association, Michael A. Weal, said civil attorneys "are quite concerned. A lot of times the lawyers do not get paid until the case gets to the court. That is the bottom line for them."

Gary Peklo, a civil attorney and past president of the bar, said the delays in trying civil cases will "have a devastating impact on our clients. They want these things resolved, but the court system is breaking down. It is another reason for the need for a fifth Circuit judge in the county."

Delays in other criminal cases "will cause some problems, but we will have to fight our way through them," said Dwight S. Thompson, the deputy county state's attorney. He said in some cases he may have to seek waivers of the rule requiring the trial of a criminal case within 180 days.

Marge Rappaport, clerk of the Circuit Court, blamed the backlog civil cases on the increasing population.

"The county is growing faster than the court's ability to handle the cases," she said.

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