Free lawyer for suspects will most likely cost counties

PRINCESS ANNE — There’s growing concern that a mandate that criminal suspects be entitled to a free attorney at the time of their bail review will be a brand new expense for local jurisdictions. Last year the Maryland Court of Appeals ordered that those arrested be represented by a lawyer when they meet with a court commissioner but the logistics and funding have taken months to work out.

The Maryland General Assembly set aside $10 million for panel attorneys to be hired, “but it’s a band-aid” said Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. And once that runs out, “it becomes a county obligation.”

Somerset County was earmarked $30,000 and because the legislature “couldn’t resolve it” Mr. Sanderson said the governor appointed a task force to look at alternatives.

MACo President Thomas Duncan said the State’s Attorney could next request to be represented at bail review hearings “so it could steam roll.” During a meeting earlier this summer with the Somerset County Commissioners, Dr. Duncan said, “there’s no wiggle room. Either way it’s going to cost more money.”

Accompanying Mr. Sanderson and Dr. Duncan at the meeting were MACo’s Legislative Director Andrea Mansfield. Together they briefed county leaders on the past General Assembly session and future initiatives.

Ms. Mansfield said the Republican gubernatorial candidate along with Democrat Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown pledged to restore highway user revenue during their speeches at the Maryland Municipal League convention in Ocean City. “I hope that doesn’t go away after the election,” said Commissioner Randy Laird, recommending that a “lock” put on the money so it can’t be diverted again.

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