Owings Mills court not vital to locals


There's plenty of pork on the hoof in Northern Baltimore County, but the natives aren't hot for the type supplied by politicians.

That's why votes in the Maryland Senate turned out so differently for attempts to keep the District Courts in Owings Mills and Dundalk.

Last week the Senate voted, 23-20, against keeping the court in Owings Mills, one of the county's fastest-growing areas. The lawmakers voted, 39-5, to preserve the court in Dundalk, though the population there is static or declining.

Now the issue is up to the House of Delegates.

"The [Owings Mills] community has taken a very responsible position," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican minority leader and northern county representative. "They're not standing in line, looking for pork."

Still, the political instinct to bring home the bacon dies hard. Sen. Janice Piccinini, a Democrat who represents Owings Mills, submitted an amendment to save her district's court, though she said she had mixed feelings.

"I don't believe in going after things that aren't necessary," she said. At the same time, she said Owings Mills is growing and likely will need its own court in the future. "If there's going to be more than three courts," she said, "we should have one."

Dundalk's senator, quiet veteran Norman R. Stone Jr., a Democrat, is the man behind the move to save Dundalk's tiny court. He presented his bill as a matter vital to the revitalization of the area's old, struggling central business district. Senator Stone argued that Dundalk's court draws people who may return to shop in the town's renovated stores.

In the last 20 years, Dundalk has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs, followed by a sharp decrease in population.

The debate began last year, during the General Assembly's special four-day session. Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, quietly amended the state's capital budget to limit the county to three District Courts once a new courthouse is built in Towson. Members of the county delegation were incensed by Mr. Maloney's actions.

Construction of the Towson courthouse is expected to begin this year.

Otherwise, Baltimore County would have had five District Courts.

As a result, $3.4 million set aside to convert an empty building at Rosewood Hospital into a new Owings Mills court was cut. The Owings Mills court operates in rented space.

Then, Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney gave his support to the three-court plan. Since the state owns court buildings in Catonsville and Essex, the change effectively would have eliminated courts using rented space in Owings Mills and Dundalk.

Judge Sweeney argued that Montgomery and Prince George's counties, with slightly larger populations than Baltimore County, have only two District Court buildings each, while Baltimore County would have had three, even after Dundalk and Owings Mills were eliminated.

Initially, political and business leaders in Owings Mills were outraged, but eventually came to see it the judge's way.

"We thought, heck, if the judge said it's not necessary with the budget crisis what it is, we shouldn't push it," said Carlyle hTC Montange, legislative chairman of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Chamber of Commerce.

Senator Piccinini agreed. "It's not a tremendous loss to us," she said. "We're getting much better things than people in shackles."

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