With the appointment of Harford County's new Circuit Court judge on the horizon, the Rehrmann administration has found office space in the County Courthouse for the new arrival, if not a courtroom for the judge to call his or her own.
The new judge is expected to take over the third-floor offices of Judge Stephen M. Waldron, who will move to the chambers of Administrative Judge William O. Carr, who in turn will move to the second floor of the courthouse, said Larry Klimovitz, the county administrative director, whose job it is to orchestrate the move.
The second-floor offices used by a court social worker will be renovated for the administrative judge's use, and the social worker will be moved to rented space in the Courtland Square building across Main Street, Mr. Klimovitz said.
The County Council and Judge Carr have haggled for months DTC over the courthouse squeeze. The council's offices and meeting room occupy most of the lower level of the Circuit Court building. Judge Carr would like to see the council removed from the building and Level A remodeled into a courtroom and other offices the court system desperately needs.
"This is a workable plan which Judge Carr has agreed to as a temporary solution," Mr. Klimovitz said. "A courtroom is not in the plans yet."
The new appointment to the bench, which Mr. Klimovitz says could come as early as June, will bring to five the number of Harford Circuit Court judges. There are four courtrooms in the building, but only three of them are large enough to accommodate a jury, and the judges frequently switch courtrooms.
The arrival of a fifth judge will call for even more creative scheduling, Judge Carr has said.
The council has resisted moving from the courthouse since it first got word during the 1994 legislative session that the county would be getting a fifth judge.
But only in the past few months, after Judge Carr sketched a new layout for the lower level of the courthouse and Mr. Klimovitz thought he had found a suitable home for the County Council in another building, did conflicting opinions on the most judicious use of space become heated discussions.
The administration thought the answer was moving the County Council to rented space in a privately owned building to be constructed on a vacant lot near Fulford Avenue and Barnes Street.
Several council members have resisted the move.
Councilman Robert Wagner said the cost would be exorbitant. Judge Carr's proposal for renovating Level A would cost about $230,000. "Add to that the rent at a new place for us, plus security, and you're at over a half a million dollars for something that could be fixed through scheduling" of courtrooms, Mr. Wagner said.
Several conferences involving council members, Judge Carr and Judge Cypert O. Whitfill in February and March ended in standoffs. After the last one, Mr. Wagner sent a memo to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, Mr. Klimovitz and Judge Carr saying that moving the council would be "entirely fiscally irresponsible."
The council appears to have won Round 1, since the Board of Estimates at its April 13 meeting approved a five-year lease for the social worker's suite at the Courtland Square building. The county will pay $18,125 a year to rent a 1,450-square-foot suite, a little more than $1,500 per month. That move is expected to take place in May, Mr. Klimovitz said.
But the courthouse battle is not over. Finding space for a new courtroom with a jury box -- Round 2 -- probably will be fought during budget hearings in the next month.
The $230,000 necessary to renovate the lower level of the courthouse according to Judge Carr's plan is in Mrs. Rehrmann's 1995-1996 capital budget, and $150,000 more in the budget has been earmarked for renting 6,000 square feet of office space for the council, Mr. Klimovitz said.
It's up to the County Council, which approves the executive's budget, to cut that money or allow it to be used as proposed.
The council has until May 31 to approve the executive's proposed budget.