There is plenty of negative publicity about lawyers, not to mention the jokes that are frequent in entertainment circles. Those of us who represent clients and realize the important services that lawyers provide often rue the fact the positive news about lawyers rarely makes its way into the media.
The response of the Maryland Bar to a crisis in representation of indigent persons in initial hearings is just such a positive story that should be told.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in a case called DeWolfe v. Richmond that criminal defendants have the right under the state constitution to legal representation when they first appear before a commissioner after being arrested. The Maryland Public Defender’s office, led by Paul DeWolfe, made it clear that it would be impossible for the public defender to provide this service. The legislature also failed to appropriate sufficient funds to provide this representation for persons who cannot afford a lawyer.
As noted by the administrative offices of the Maryland District Court where such hearings are held, there are more than 153,000 such hearings each year across the State, where a person who has been arrested is brought before a District Court Commissioner to set bail or determine if the defendant can otherwise be released. These Commissioners must be available 24 hours a day, every day of the year in order to hold these hearings.
In response to this need, the District Court launched a statewide program to recruit lawyers willing to provide this representation, including in the middle of the night where needed. The program is set to start on July 1, and lawyers who apply and are qualified must agree to accept a fee of only $50 per hour, well below standard hourly rates. The Chief Judge of the District Court noted that this will provide an indigent defendant a chance to consult with an attorney who can then argue for beneficial terms for their client’s release.
The Court has already noted that hundreds of lawyers across the State have volunteered to participate in this program to help indigent persons charged with a crime. While they will not get rich on such work, it shows the good work that lawyers in Maryland do so that the rights of its citizens are protected.