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Carroll Circuit Court judges face growing civil caseload Legal conflicts soar as population grows


As people move into Carroll County, they bring with them all the civil and uncivil situations that can land on the courthouse docket.

Carroll ranks first in the state in the number of residents for each of its three Circuit Court judges, according to a report to the General Assembly last month by Maryland's top judge, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals.

As a result of the county's growing population, lawsuits are getting trial dates into 2000, said Raymond E. Beck Sr., administrative judge of the Circuit Court. "My docket is full for 1999," he said.

The county has reached a population it wasn't projected to have until 2010, "and with that population growth comes all the legal problems: from mortgages to contractors' disputes, divorces, criminal cases, children in need of supervision -- all across the board," Beck said.

"The new filings reflect the changing demographics, the population increases," he said.

The county probably will need a fourth judge sooner than expected, said Beck, a former state senator appointed to the bench in 1989 when a third Circuit Court judgeship was created for Carroll.

"Carroll County will definitely need a fourth judge by 2001," Beck said. "We'll be bursting at the seams."

Judgeships in Maryland are created according to a formula that includes population and caseloads -- and officials at almost any busy courthouse in the state would say they need another full-time judge.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts said Bell's Nov. 16 report to the General Assembly for the coming fiscal year (1999-2000) includes as Exhibit A-1 a Circuit Courts analysis that says in part: "Carroll County is one of the fastest growing areas in the state with a July 1, 1999, projected population of 153,000. Carroll County has experienced a 58.8 percent increase since 1980.

"During Fiscal Year 1998, Carroll County ranked first in population per judge [51,000 residents]."

Despite the county's growth, Carroll officials have not formally asked the state for another judgeship. Bell requested several judges in counties where the need is most pressing.

In the report -- a certification of need for additional judgeships -- Bell called for seven new Circuit Court judges (one each for Allegany, Calvert, Charles, Frederick and Worcester counties, and two for Washington County), and four new District Court judges (in Frederick, Montgomery, St. Mary's and Prince George's counties).

This year, Bell asked the legislature for only two new District Court judges, for Frederick and Prince George's counties.

The courts' statewide needs are being met for now, he said in the report, with the services of retired judges and the state's continued support for contractual masters' services.

The masters are lawyers who serve a quasi-judicial function, usually attempting to resolve cases without the need for trial.

About 30 attorneys serve as masters in Carroll, handling settlement conferences for civil cases and resolving 55 to 60 percent of them before trial, easing court congestion, said Larry W. Shipley, clerk of the Circuit Court.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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