As the bodies mount in Baltimore — with teen-agers now a routine part of the homicide toll — Gov. Larry Hogan has rightly called for a “frank and honest” meeting to be held Tuesday among city criminal justice officials to address the violence. But now judges have begged off, claiming they don’t have to answer questions about their work because they’re above being “swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”
We respect the independent nature of the judiciary, and certainly wouldn’t want our governor to try to unduly influence it, as our president is doing at the federal level. But we not only believe that judges should participate in the meeting, but that Mr. Hogan should open it to the public — as such meetings of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Countil (CJCC) typically are. The most unusual thing about this one is that the governor will be in attendance; he often sends a representative.
It’s beyond time to assemble those responsible for the city’s public safety in a room to candidly discuss the crisis Baltimore is facing and to answer for their actions — or lack thereof — in stemming the bloodshed. At the very least, judges should explain how it is that the majority of people convicted of gun offenses in the city, 60 percent, are ordered to serve less than half their sentences. They don’t need to discuss specific cases or violate rules of procedure, just explain the judiciary’s process so the citizens who pay their salaries can make an informed decision about whether justice is indeed being served.
The three judges invited to the meeting — Charles Peters, the judge in charge of the criminal docket for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, and administrative judges W. Michel Pierson (city circuit court) and Barbara Baer Waxman (district court) — are regular CJCC members as it is, and have presumably been able to speak for themselves in the past.
Perhaps the issue is that prior meetings frequently have been less about finding solutions to city crime problems than filling time through tired power point presentations about the status of various initiatives. Now that “frank and honest” crime containment is the stated goal, the judges are out, and the governor wants to slam the doors on the people, hosting the CJCC meeting privately at his Baltimore office on St. Paul Street, instead of publicly in the city’s Courthouse East, where it’s usually held.
That’s unfortunate, given that a 2001 memorandum of understanding making the council (ad hoc since 1999) permanent, explicitly states that the purpose of the group is to address “systemic problems” and improve the “performance of the criminal justice system” and that its monthly meetings “shall be open to the public.”
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office says the council doesn’t meet the definition of a public body, and, as such, doesn’t technically have to open its meetings. But if Mr. Hogan truly wants to find solutions to the city’s crime problems, he shouldn’t be looking for legal loopholes to slither through; he should be inviting as many minds to weigh in as possible, including yours.
What the city needs now is everyone working together, and that includes the police commissioner and state’s attorney. Commissioner Kevin Davis and top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby made a point of presenting a united front on crime in a joint interview with The Sun’s Justin Fenton earlier this month, but within a week they had resorted to holding dueling press conferences to criticize the actions of the other’s agency.
We recognize that we’re heading into an election year, and grandstanding is inevitable from those whose seats are up for grabs, which includes Mr. Hogan and Ms. Mosby. But there’s more at stake here than political careers. Actual lives are being lost at an alarming rate. Nothing left unsaid by judges on that subject — or uttered behind closed doors — has produced results thus far. Time for something else.
That’s frank and honest.
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